No Traveler Returns

Warning: This review may contain spoilers.
By Maureen Jennings
Directed by Kerry Hishon
Played by Kelly MacDonald, Jonathon Calhoun, Katie Komarnicky, Chris McAuley, John Iglesias, Annette Dennis and Rosemary Bonner
An Out of Sight Productions Production
The Arts Project Theatre
February 3–12, 2011

Whodunit mysteries on the stage are most famous for Agatha Christie’s tales in privileged society, but such assumptions should not be a straight jacket. This play has an uninteresting start, but gains its footing in relatively short order for an engaging mystery with a distinctively Canadian working class flavour.

In a boarding house in the rural Muskoka region of Ontario, the tyrannical owner, Ben Ryan, is found murdered and Det. William Murdoch is forced to break his cover to investigate. In doing so, he uncovers a sordid mix of personal grievances and violent politics with the various characters in the house having their own tales to tell. Even so, solving this case will involve some trickery of his own.

I came into this play with low expectations and the rather staid opening of the show did nothing to persuade me this was a show worth seeing. For instance, most of the characters initially seemed cliched and their conflicts felt run of the mill like the aspiring daughter oppressed by the small minded father. However, the play picks up considerably when the murder is discovered, becoming a cracking good tale with multiple character interplays giving the mystery a reasonable level of complexity. Furthermore, the story is flavoured with an excellent grasp of Canadian history such as the role of the Irish Fenian partisan movement, injecting a potent political tension to the story. There is one climatic twist that feels somewhat predictable, but the characters in on the trick are likable enough to have it be a relief as the story comes to a satisfying conclusion.

The players carry off this play with appropriate aplomb. For instance, John Iglesias gives the necessary authority as Det. Murdoch, with a hidden deeper side that gives him a more personal stake in the case beyond his professionalism. Rosemary Bonner is enjoyable as Alice Woodstock, a seamstress with a vindictive streak coloured with an amusing malapropism habit when angered, as is Jonathon Calhoun as Jack Kipp as an ill tempered hayseed. Furthermore, considering many of the actors are visually impaired in the production, the fact that you cannot tell them apart from the sighted players is a glowing testament to their skill.

However, the real star is Chris McAuley as Luke “Prospero” Binden, a thespian drifter whose theatrical affectations hide a sordid past he dearly wishes he could make disappear. As he struggles to face his past, you will feel for him as he fights to keep it from swallowing him up as the greater truth comes out. Finally, Annette Dennis is a good foil in this tale of intrigue as Margaret Ryan as she not-so-innocently becomes both witness and near victim without knowing it.

The stagecraft is pleasingly efficient with carefully selected props and doors to give the stage a believable feel of size and depth for a boarding house. Some choice selections of music and sound effects complete the illusion. It’s no mystery why the play will ensnare you once it gets up to dramatic speed.

The initial version of this post gave incorrect directing credit to the show’s producers; the actual director is Kerry Hishon.