THUNDER BAY ----- October 25, 2009 --- The second play of the season is now playing at Magnus Theatre Thunder Bay, Ontario . As usual Friday night’s gala performance was completely sold out. For me a gala performance is all about a performing society’s very best effort, and Magnus Theatre has pulled out all the stops to make this show a success. As with all Magnus Plays Mario Crudo likes to create an atmosphere of anticipation before the audience even goes into the theatre. With this performance he used the art work of Ray Swaluk, Peter Humeniuk of Lake Superior Art Gallery and William E Burn. These local Thunder Bay, artists specialize in the out of doors landscapes of our region and I know at least one, Ray Swaluk is an avid fisherman and sportsman.
The program notes include a page dedicated to the art of fly fishing, and how it is regarded as an art form as compared to bait fishing. I could see how this play would appeal to so many people in this city. We have a lot of people here who enjoy fishing. Another element that is truly northern is the summer cottage. In this case a fishing cottage that Wes (played by Anthony Holland) has maintained for years, using it to store the treasures of a life time. Mostly all the good and even the bad times he and his best friend Don (played by Vince Metcalfe) had created over the years. For many families in the city who have had a summer camp experience in their lives these are indeed the places where strong ties and bonds between friends and families are created, so this play will appeal to those who maintain summer camps.
It is in this setting that playwright Michael Melski drafts a story of two friends in their later years. It is the story of one friend now a widower who wants his old buddy Don to return once more for a fishing trip at the river. This is something that he desperately wants to accomplish since it has been many years since Wes and Don have been fishing. There are amends to be made and Wes is hoping the excitement of good fishing and good company will help restore a friendship that has lasted 50 years.
Don’s story is a little different, after their war years the two married and Don became involved in his business, at the expense of his friendship with Wes and also his wife. Now in his later years Don’s memory is not what it once was. He says in the play “Anything between 50 years ago and five minutes ago is complete nonsense”.
In his last few year’s Wes has written a book titled the “Fly Fisher’s Companion”. Unlike the real book by that title it is a collection of the memories the two have shares through 50 years of friendship, a friendship that has survived marriage, war, business and even each other. The book was written as a gift to his friend Don. When Don realizes that it is not a fishing manual, but a lifetime collection of memories he cannot otherwise recall, he fully appreciates the magnitude of Wes’s last gift to his friend.
This is a two actor play but these are not your average two actors. At 89 Anthony Holland is the oldest performing actor accepting lead roles in North America. Vince Metcalfe has more leading roles at Magnus alone to comfortably list in this review. There must be 100 years of stage experience between the two. Since old men are not dynamically active their experience at their craft conveys the emotions and sincerity of this play and that is what make this production a success. The play moves quickly along, and in the end is difficult to anticipate. Michael Melski knows how to write a good play. There is some fisherman’s humour and many quick lines throughout the production. The one quip that stuck in my mind is “The man who gets their flies at Wal-Mart gets their salmon at Safeway’s”
Increasingly Mario Crudo is achieving his goal of turning Magnus Theatre into our Theatre. You know theatre is not any better in Toronto, Vancouver or Winnipeg. The quality of all their shows is tops and it is right here in Thunder Bay. It is encouraging to see the old Central School given a new lease on life and turned into a performing professional theatre. It is also encouraging to see so many people come out and enjoy this part of our city’s heritage. The future of the theatre would be a lot more secure if the building had its mortgage retires, and to that end Magnus has an ever present campaign to raise funds. If you are feeling socially benevolent these days, or perhaps lived live as a complete rogue in the past and wish to make amends consider a gift to Magnus Theatre. It will be a gift that keeps on giving in a good sense.
The Fly Fisher’s Companion runs until November 7th, be sure to bring a friend.
Arts Editor: LakeSuperiorNews.com