Grand Ends Its Season on a High with Grow
There are reasons why sitcoms are popular. They’re simple, predictable, and even though we know it’s all going to work out in the end – and we often see the “twist” coming a mile away – we can sit back and enjoy the journey.
That’s what Grow is. Even though its plot is obvious to the point of being blunt, it’s a light, gentle, amusing extended musical sitcom that’s effervescently shallow in the best possible way.
Grow is the story of two Amish twin sisters who move to Toronto as part of their Rumspringa – a traditional Amish right-of-passage where youth explore the non-Amish world to ensure that they’re able to make an informed choice about their decision to be baptised into the Amish faith. Hannah (Arina Hermans) is the strong-minded sister, uncertain of her faith and desire to remain in the community, and resistant to the marriage proposals of Izad Etemadi’s Samuel. Her twin sister Ruth (Jenny Weisz), on the other hand, is more aligned to the Amish ideals, has no desire to leave the community, and only agrees to be sent away (by their father) with Hannah to honour the wishes of their deceased mother that they always remain together. Ruth is a master gardener, but does not fit in with the community.
Hannah is excited to live in the big city and explore her future; Ruth is reluctant to leave the community and immediately looks for reasons to return. Ultimately, Ruth’s gardening talents result in the development of the greatest strain of cannabis in the world – hence the play’s title and the ultimate source of conflict and eventual resolution.
Grow has its highs – and I promise, I’ll stop with the tired puns soon. Far and away, the two co-stars Anna Hermans and Jenny Weisz, are outstanding. They are beyond delightful – they command the stage whenever they appear, both through their acting and their powerful singing voices.
They make the most of a fairly simplistic song foundation. The power and range of their voices – especially when they harmonize – elevate average songs into something that is moving and thrilling in the moment. After all, the music is pleasant, but instantly forgettable. Like a later-in-his-oeuvre Elvis film soundtrack (less King Creole, more Tickle Me/Roustabout), the music is bouncy, pleasant to listen to, and is used essentially to sing the plot. But unlike most musicals, there’s nothing there that you’re going to be humming even five minutes after you leave the theatre.
Think “High” School Musical and you’re close. And now I’m done with the puns.
The beginning of the play is rough. Starting in Amish country, the play leans hard on stereotypes (note: the playwrights state in the program that they did consult Amish communities for accuracy). The jokes are a little forced and stale (the community warns a rebellious Hannah about the dangers of *gasp* gender-neutral bathrooms). And many of the background characters are little more than stereotypical caricatures.
But the relative neutrality of the canvas provided by the background characters and music allow the personalities and talents of the two leads to shine. They truly carry the production and are a delight to watch.
Masini McDermott as Alexis, a young woman starting her own officially licensed dispensary, and Adam Sanders as Skor, a low-level dealer, are pleasant complementary characters that help to further the sisters’ personal growth and propel the plot forward. And Etemadi threatens to steal the show in the second act with a few well-timed comedic moments and one show-stopping line that drew roars of appreciation from the opening-night crowd.
The staging is efficient and supports the plot. Multiple screens in the background allowed for images to be projected upon them to provide context for the action. From fields in Amish country to an artisan market in Toronto; and from a basement grow-op to an industrial cannabis production facility, the screens were used to effectively establish the scenes without drawing too much attention from the actors. It was a subtle, but appreciated, touch.
Like any good sitcom, there’s a thin thread of a message within the story. Ostensibly the story is about finding one’s true path and the power of a supportive community – however you define that. In the end, Grow is an enjoyable experience, lighthearted and filled with gentle humour, which benefits greatly from two stellar leads. And it’s a production that allows the Grand to finish its long-delayed season on an undisputed high.