Simple times in early 20th century Kamloops, where families break into song, converse while sitting on a swing in the garden, and ponder the mystery of God. This scenario forms the backdrop of All the Way Home, playing for three more evenings (and a couple of matinees) on the Queen E Theatre stage.
In a unique stage designed by Marshall McMahen, the audience encircles the cast and set during the two hour (with one intermission and a brief ‘stretch pause’) production. The stage is sparsely lit with white ceiling lights and occasional oil lamps and candles setting certain scenes. The audience is treated to an intimate play by Tad Mosel with direction by Kim Collier.
The Electric Company Theatre should be commended for doing such a fantastic job at melding the actors into the era. We sat by a pair of rocking chairs close enough to smell the old-fashioned hair products and perfumes of the cast. Some of the audience members are even lucky enough to sit at the dining table and behind the beds in the bedroom. It all depends where you’d like to sit and how fast you can get there (seating is by general admission). It was interesting to see the performance with the audience integrated into the set. Some were teary-eyed towards the end, further proof of the play’s emotionally-charged setting.
Meg Roe heads the family Follet, playing Mary, in many ways a saint in her wholesome ways. She keeps her husband Jay (Jonathon Young) grounded while teaching proper manners to their young son Ivan (Jordan Wessels). Meg Roe and Gabrielle Rose (Catherine Lynch, Aunt Sadie Follet) are reunited in this cast from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.
On the other side of the family spectrum is Jay’s obnoxious, business-driven brother Ralph (wittingly performed by Haig Sutherland). He’s an undertaker with both a fancy car and a penchant for the bottle. During one particularly melancholic evening, Ralph vows to his brother to end drinking, or at least aims to (“I hereby take a vow to think on it.”).
Lots of old ditties are sung while the cast circles outside the audience, and the delightful chorus chimes in and out of the production. A particularly endearing scene occurs while Ivan is being put to bed by his parents, as the cast softly hums behind the audience, off to one side of the bedroom.
The play could almost be seen as a musical, with a tune borne out of nearly every scene. The only challenge was hearing some of the dialogue on certain areas of the stage. When a character had their back turned to a particular part of the audience, it was at times hard to make out some of the words. I imagine that every area of the set had differing acoustics.
Nicola Lipman does double duty, first barely recognizable as Great-Great Grandmaw, and later in Act 2 as the hilarious Aunt Hannah Lynch. This second role is a standout performance, on par with veteran actor Gabrielle Rose, also playing two roles: Catherine Lynch (Mary’s mother) and Aunt Sadie Follet. I greatly enjoyed her past performance as Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, for which she was nominated with a Jessie.
The kids in the cast also do a fine job in All the Way Home. They include brothers Aidan (Jim Wilson) and Jordan Wessels (Ivan Follet), and Julian Levy, Dexter Storey, and Elias Verheyen (Chorus members).
In the second act, things take a turn for the worse when the family is confronted with a fatal accident. Aunt Hannah offers comfort to the family while waiting for the news. A short break for the audience to stretch midway in the second act ends with a song on the piano. In these trying, simpler times, prayer takes over and eventually allows the families to carry on with their lives.
I took several more detailed notes during the performance, but realized that I’d be giving too much away by revealing their content. Suffice it to say, this is an enjoyable, brilliant production by cast and crew. If you’re lucky enough to have scored a seat amongst the remaining sold-out shows, count your blessings.
All the Way Home performs nightly through January 14, with a noon matinee on January 13 and a 3 pm matinee on January 14. Visit the Electric Company Theatre’s website for upcoming productions.
Photos courtesy of Michael Julian Berz.