By Susan Coyne
Performed by Eva Blahut, Thomas Bogad, Norah Cuzzocrea, Bill Meaden and Patsy Morgan
Directed by Don Fleckser
A London Community Players Production
The Palace Theatre
September 15-24, 2006
The summer time can be a time of child like magic and imagination. This play is an eager and occasionally cleverly staged attempt to create such a state with a story that is alternatively evocative and boring. A young woman tells a tale about a special summer in her childhood at her family’s island cottage in Kenora, Ontario. Her best friend is the elder neighbour, R.C. Moir, who inspires her imagination with his imaginative letters he claims are from the faerie princess, Nootsie Tah. In those letters, the princess playfully corresponds with Moir and Susan about the various goings on and how the two joyfully affect her own life. However, as the summer wanes, more than the season must end as Moir must makes a decision to allow Susan to move on.
Watching this play, the company has created an evocative look at a childhood memory of a near ideal summer from a child’s eyes. With everything happening from Susan’s point of view, there is a timelessness as she plays with her beloved neighbour while Mr. Moir quietly encourages that sense of magic with his letters from Nootsie Tah which are played with joyful enthusiasm by Patsy Morgan. Unfortunately, that timelessness is taken somewhat too far considering how the narrative flow is too slow. That may be appropriate to suggest lazy summer days, but it does not change the fact that the crawling pace put me to sleep more than once in the performance and the play only began to engage me when the flow accelerated. In fairness, the concluding scenes were entrancing in their own right as the summer comes to a close and Susan cannot accept that with her upcoming beginning of school. Mr. Moir’s realization of what she needs to move on and his imaginative solution for it has a wistful quality as we share Susan’s heartbreak even as we know this may be the most diplomatic solution. The epilogue deepens that we see Susan grow up and Mr. Moir decline over the years until they inevitably separate with a moving final farewell message from the elder that inspires the now adult Susan with her own children. Despite the slowness of the story, the players make the best of it with good performances, albiet with occasionally mixed results. For instance, Eva Blahut is charming as the story’s narrator with her affable fallibility, but when she plays her character as a child, there is an unavoidable creepiness. That obviously makes audience identification difficult if they cannot get past the unintended surface image of a woman with catastrophically arrested development. By contrast, Bill Meaden has a wonderful grace as a beloved elder of vivid imagination and talent. He carries a charming air that masks a youthful enthusiasm and talent that enjoys firing up the imagination of youth. Yet, he is wise to know when that fantasy has gone too far and must end for girl’s sake.
That wisdom extends to Meaden’s final scene where his character has his final address with a moving eloquence to Susan to prepare her for the inevitable. Thomas Bogad and Norah Cuzzocrea make their own mark as the distinctive characters in the imagination of Mr. Moir and Susan, but they are their best at Susan’s parents.
In those roles, they beautifully play against stereotypes with a gently non-judgmental and accommodating manner as they humour their child’s fantasies as much as possible. Against those bedrock performances, Patsy Morgan is all flamboyance as Nootsie Tah. With a flowing exuberance, she acts out Moir’s imagination with an infectious glee that brings the audience along in the fantasy. For all the performances, its the stagecraft where the play is strongest. For instance, after an apparently deliberate delay of a few minutes, the lead appears from the side exit complain about being late. That charming fallibility is maintained with the bird slide show that accidentally segues into an introduction of the narrator’s parents. Even simpler motifs have their charm such as when the narrator talks about taking a train to the cottage, Bogad passes by her pulling a wooden toy train to illustrate it. In short, there is imagination here that easily matches Mr. Moir’s in the best way. This play is an amusing mix of love and imagination, although it would have been better if it could have engaged me sooner than it did.