ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
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Ice hits audience with laughter
Wingfield on Ice
Starring: Rod Beattie
Directed By: Douglas Beattie
Written by: Dan Needles
Four 1/2 stars (out of five)
By Mark Polishuk
Gazette File Photo
Despite the unfortunate title that makes it sound like a made-for-TV Elvis Stojko special, Wingfield on Ice is the latest hilarious collaboration between playwright Dan Needles and the Beattie brothers, Rod and Douglas.
The play is the fifth in a series about Walt Wingfield, played by Rod Beattie, a Toronto stockbroker who tires of his hectic life on Bay Street and retires to become a farmer in the quiet Ontario township of Persephone.
The first few plays feature Walt's misadventures in learning how to farm, but Ice is set five years after Walt comes to Persephone. By this time he is a fairly competent farmer, so Needles advances the story beyond the usual fish-out-of-water jokes.
Ice focuses extensively on examining the inner-workings of the human character. Walt learns that all is not as pleasant as it seems in Persephone, as he learns about (and even gets involved in) a few of the town's long-standing feuds.
His neighbour Baxter "The Squire" Fortiscue hasn't spoken to his brother in over 50 years, Walt's nephew Freddie has a heated rivalry with Pookie, a bad-tempered collie and Walt's own wife Maggie dislikes a local woman named Ms. Lynch due to a dispute between the two families.
It is in this troubled environment that Walt and Maggie find themselves expecting their first child, but the situation only worsens when Persephone Township is hit with their worst ice storm in years.
Needles' script is structured into a series of comic vignettes, related by Walt as weekly letters to the editor of the town's newspaper. The humour within the script is pleasant, but clearly catered to an older, grey-haired audience.
Despite this fact, it doesn't make the jokes any less funny. Needles uses more than a few corny punchlines, but cleverly sets them up so the audience doesn't see them coming. The added dramatic depth of Ice makes it one of the better plays in the Wingfield series.
One over-dramatic touch, however, is director Douglas Beattie's fondness for using a spotlight effect to accentuate Walt's poetic monologues about people learning to live with each other. The dimmed lighting combines with the somewhat clichéd dialogue for an overall sappy effect. This heavy-handed metaphor of the ice storm and the "chill" of the town's rivalries is another minor flaw.
The unique feature of Ice and the rest of the Wingfield plays is that all of the roles are played by Rod Beattie. His natural onstage presence make his multiple roles seem like an extension of his storytelling, rather than just a theatrical gimmick.
Beattie is so adept at changing his voice and body language that the audience is able to tell which character he is playing without any introduction.
Any one-man show requires a tight chemistry between actor and director, but even after close to 3,000 performances of Wingfield plays, Needles and the Beatties brothers are as fresh and creative as ever.
Wingfield on Ice is sure to entertain both longtime fans of the series and those who are experiencing these great characters for the first time.