Ever felt your emotions spiraling out of control-laughing one minute, but crying the next? Of the Fields, Lately, this season's first offering by Theatre Calgary takes its audience on such a journey of incongruity, jumping from scenes of intense drama to inane humor within a blink of an eye. Written by one of Canada's premier dramatists, David French, this sobering account about how death touches one Newfoundland family brings out the worst in its characters and the best of its actors.
The play opens with young Ben Mercer (Jessie Aaron Dwyre) finally coming home for the funeral of his Aunt Dot, despite the attempts of his over-wrought mother (Brooke Johnson) to keep him away from his father (Wayne Best). The unmistakable tension between Ben and his father is evident from the outset of the play. As Ben explains it, "...it takes many incidents to build a wall between two men, brick by brick. Sometime you are not aware of building the wall and sometimes you are."
Thanks in part to the antics of Stephen Hair as Uncle Wiff, the play briskly keeps audiences laughing. Uncle Wiff is the newly widowed husband of Dot and best friend to Jacob. His comical attempts for a stiff drink act as a buffer to the intense and complex drama of the play; things don't get heavy for too long. Stephen isn't the only one getting the audience to laugh, as the comedic timing of the entire cast is pitch perfect. At times, though, the play does begin to lose control of balancing the comedy and drama. It lends to a noticeable lull as the play scrambles to switch between the comedy to drama, but can't do it quite fast enough. Regardless, Director R. H. Thomson's strong sense of direction keeps the audiences' attention throughout with an interesting arrangement of the actors on the stage. Kim Nielsen's set design allows for a focus on the Mercer house, while still drawing attention to the "memory photos" of the family members placed around the stage.
Best, Dwyre, Hair and Johnson, each do a superb job with their individual characters; Best particularly stands out as the weathered Jacob. The cast's ability to slip seamlessly into character allows for the audience to observe the "real" family dynamics of perhaps an irreconcilable relationship between father and son, even when the cast falters in their Newfoundland accents.
But do not let this put you off of Theatre Calgary's inaugural play of the season. It remains a roller coaster of emotions, whisking audiences through the gruelling, but always entertaining experience of the mending of a dysfunctional family and the healing of the rift between father and son. Over the Fields, Lately is not, by any means, over the hill.