MORRISBURG – Have you ever found yourself in a difficult situation you can’t escape from, no matter what you do; so you try and make the best out of the situation?
Socially awkward and uptight, James Bell knows about this situation all too well.
While on his way to give a big, important speech for his company, Bell’s car breaks down in the isolated small town of Kooshog Lake and has no way of getting out until the end of the weekend. His car can’t be fixed until Sunday and it seems that his company can get along “splendidly” without him.
Luckily, he happened to visit during The Great Kooshog Lake Hollis McCauley Fishing Derby, an annual contest where the residents try to catch the elusive Hollis McCauley catfish for the growing prize; money that’s been carried over for 22 years.
From the first scene, you can pretty much grasp what kind of production you’re buckled in for; a corny, goofy, somewhat misguided comedy.
From the tone, it seems that the play takes inspiration from classic fast-talking comedies like His Girl Friday and Bringing Up Baby where characters would quickly spout out comedic banter to entice the audience and keep their attention. When Bell first enters the scene, a comedy routine begins with a character named Sienna who owns Sienna’s Grocery but she’s not the Sienna that the store is named after, in fact she’s never even met the woman.
The play has a lot of scenes like this and while sometimes they can offer big laughs, other times the actors’ deliveries can be a little off-putting and awkward, especially from the main actor, Warren Bain.
It’s clear Bain was portraying an uptight, young businessman who needed to let loose and relax a bit, but sometimes his line delivery could be a little too monotone. However, his performance is mostly salvaged by the performance of Katie Ryerson, who portrayed the cute, antique shop owner Melanie.
Melanie and Bell share a rather likeable chemistry throughout the show. Even though both characters are very different from one another, they tend to bond over how they’re both from the city and how they both reacted poorly to their previous relationships ending.
However, while both Bain and Ryerson share likeable chemistry together, the performance that’ll really stand out to audiences is Marshall Button as the town mechanic and founder of the derby, Kirk Douglas (not that one).
Button’s excitable performance is intoxicating through every line he speaks. There’s one particular scene where Button goes into a monologue about his first encounter with Hollis McCauley and the passion he puts into it is both exciting and hilarious.
Living in a small town, it’s a good chance you’ve met a character like Douglas that was overly friendly, a loud-talker and likes to joke around with the other residents and out-of-towners.
The show’s writing could also go from hilarious to ’90s sitcom-esque comedy very quickly where the actors just shout out their jokes, whether or not they work. Sometimes they got a laugh, other times the audience was silent.
Sometimes it was a legitimately funny joke, other times it was a tired, old, forced pun that received a unanimous eye-roll from the crowd.
However, the writing does shine through with its portrayal of its actors and how we should relate to their troubles. For example, Bell went through a break-up years before entering Lake Kooshog and to cope, he threw himself into his work without looking back and now, work has become his whole life.
Sienna has an estranged relationship with her son and they haven’t spoken in months because she put him too high on a pedestal that he couldn’t live up to. Melanie dated and fell in love with Sienna’s son and felt rejected after he skipped town months ago.
Each character has a real-life issue that the audience can understand and relate to and it was very refreshing to see. It made these characters seem more three-dimensional rather than walking punchlines that the comedic writing was dead set on trying make them be.
All in all, while the play is a mixed bag with some awkward dialogue and line delivery, a few strong performances and relatability still shine through. The Great Kooshog Lake Hollis McCauley Fishing Derby will continue to play at the Upper Canada Playhouse until Sun., Sept. 30. Tickets can be purchased at www.uppercanadaplayhouse.com.
Reporter/Photographer for Chesterville Record and Eastern Ontario Agrinews. Currently working on Record segment, “Chilling Tales from Beyond”