Review: Kingfisher Days by Susan Coyne

Coyne’s sweet story of a five-year-old girl’s summer at the family cottage in northwestern Ontario is presented within the framework of a narration by her older self. The set was an ingenious adaptation to the very tiny Glen stage: stage right is a cutaway exterior to a cottage living room, stage left is the outer steps and patio of a summer cottage, and centrestage are the dock, shoreline and upstage, the vine covered old fireplace, central to the action.

Susan Coyne’s script is a rich tapestry with references to Thoreau, Shakespeare’s Mercutio from Romeo and Juliet, and probably Coyne’s own experience as a young cottager. It taps into all of the positives and very few of the negatives of the cottage experience, and very definitely rings true. Coyne has obviously written from what she knows, and it certainly pays off in the script.

For this play to work, the audience has to believe Susan’s transitions from an adult to a five-year-old girl, has to see her neighbor, Mr. Moir, as a sympathetic wise  and creative free spirit; but most of all, the audience has to believe that Nootsie Tah is truly a wondrous fairy princess. I think you will agree with me that the last of those requirements is the most difficult to achieve. Actors who can make you suspend disbelief in the face of the fantastic are like magicians: once they have us, they have us. Such was the case last night at The Glen.

Nancy Munro (Susan) managed to tread the very fine line between cartooning her character and sentimentalizing her.  We were able to believe both that Susan the narrator was an adult with life experience and that Susan the five-year-old girl had an imagination and a natural naïveté that allowed her to believe in fairies. There was no confusion about which version of Susan we were watching at any moment, as Munro handled the transitions smoothly and clearly without extraneous artifice.

Bill Roddy played Mr. Moir with just the right nuance of gentle wit and expressed empathy. In our paranoid times, the actor playing a part like this really has to establish that when the little girl enters his house and sits down beside him she is not in danger. I would imagine that anyone else who was in the audience with me last night would think I am nit picking here, because Roddy depicted Mr. Moir as a genuinely nice person who really had only the good for Susan at heart. Mr. Moir’s part in the script is to establish, at first, that he, an innocent bystander, takes the fairy story seriously; and later, to depict without going over the top, exactly what the relationship is between himself and Nootsie Tah so that we can understand his totally benign relationship with Susan. Roddy projected this gentle delight so effectively that we were able to immerse ourselves in it.

Nikaiataa Skidders wove a delightful and fantastical Nootsie Tah, using wonderful facial expression and fluid movement to generate the joy, lightness and energy of the character. It takes a special kind of commitment to make a character like Nootsie Tah work. The actor must make the audience believe in this character, one that is magical, but never actually demonstrates the ability to perform magic. We also have to be able to follow the character’s relationship with both the naïve five-year old girl and the wise and understanding Mr. Moir. Skidders displayed full commitment and considerable graceful animated skill in portraying the character.

This is a cast with no weak links. Jean Leger gave us a substantial father who seems slightly more sympathetic than the very practical mother, played by Pat Haaksman; the success of both portrayals was evident near the end of the play when each in turn becomes involved in the fantasy. Aaron Beaudette (Stagehand) gave a very subtle performance as multiple characters. His Burt Lancaster grin will serve him well.

This production obviously benefited from Director Michael Togneri’s understanding of the emotions of this play. The audience must be drawn into sympathy for parental concerns yet must feel empathy for Susan’s relationship with the fairy princess. Within this dynamic, we see the parents’ practical concerns for the safety of the child and their desire for the child’s happiness. This dynamic in this play was never false: we were caught up in the tension; yet, we believed.

The various aspects of art direction for this production, from the poster design to set design construction finishing and costume design and production were really well executed. I was especially impressed by the depiction of the dock and the overgrown fireplace. Considering the limited lighting facilities in the Glen Theatre, lighting was effective and undistracting.

The production as a whole faithfully conveyed the emotional message of the play: that there are amazingly wonderful imaginative people in this world who can touch our hearts.

Production reviewed: April 25, 2009 Glen Theatre 8 PM running time 1:21 no intermission

Vagabond Theatre presents

Kingfisher Days by Susan Coyne

Producer: Dan Youmelle
Director: Michael Togneri
Stage Manager: Micheline Lacasse
Properties: Ashley McCool
Set Construction: Brian Fourney and Ray Prince
Sound and Projection: Mike McAnany
Technical Director: Dan Youmelle
Poster Design and Program: Adrian Black
Advertising and Promotion: Nancy Munro and Brian Lynch

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About riverwriter

Poet, playwright, duplicate bridge player, website designer, cottager, husband, father, grandfather, former athlete, carpenter, computer helper for my friends, theatre designer, backstage polymath, retired teacher of highschool English, drama, art, a baritone singer in a barbershop quartet, who knows what else? wordcurrents is on Facebook: Doug also has a Facebook page, "Incognitio", related to his novels.
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