Calgary Herald - - YOU - LOUIS B. HOBSON

If there is a nurs­ing home for crotch­ety, proudly in­de­pen­dent Prairie cen­te­nar­ian char­ac­ters, Sharon Pollock’s Gampy will be sit­ting in the rock­ing chair next to W.O. Mitchell’s Daddy Sherry.

Daddy Sherry is the 111-yearold cur­mud­geon from Mitchell’s The Kite who proudly trum­peted, among other things, that he was the world’s old­est man.

In Pollock’s newest play, Blow Wind High Wa­ter, run­ning at Theatre Cal­gary un­til Sept. 30, the cen­tral char­ac­ter is Gampy, who might just have a cou­ple years on Daddy Sherry.

Gampy and Daddy Sherry are so lov­able, ac­ces­si­ble and en­dear­ing be­cause they are true Prairie archetypes. They over­flow with no-non­sense blus­ter and, as much as the younger gen­er­a­tion might hate to ad­mit, they have that bit­ing in­sight that only comes with age.

Gampy’s prob­lem is he’s grap­pling with de­men­tia so he can’t pass on the in­sights and knowl­edge so des­per­ately needed by his grand­son Doug, whose life, like his leg, is bro­ken.

Doug’s bro­ken limb is just one of nu­mer­ous metaphors in Pollock’s play. There is also the storm brew­ing out­side the house that Pollock uses to mir­ror the storms rag­ing in the lives of the fam­ily mem­bers. Then there is a won­drous, mag­i­cal, imp­ish char­ac­ter named Gwynt whom only Gampy can see, hear and com­mu­ni­cate with.

Any time Gampy (Stephen Hair) and Gwynt (Julie Or­ton) are on­stage alone to­gether, Blow Wind High Wa­ter soars.

As Ariel was to Pros­pero in Shake­speare’s The Tem­pest, Gwynt is Gampy’s eyes and ears and, as much as his jum­bled mind an­noys her, Gwynt loves the aged man dearly.

I pre­dict there will be much de­bate as to who or what Gwynt re­ally is, but I think the an­swer lies in the fact the Gaelic word means wind.

Hair’s por­trayal of the aged, con­fused and tor­mented pa­tri­arch in Blow Wind il­lus­trates beau­ti­fully how suited he is for an up­com­ing pro­duc­tion. In the spring he will play Lear for The Shake­speare Com­pany, which could well be the role of a life­time.

At its heart, Blow Wind High Wa­ter is a sprawl­ing fam­ily drama. I liked the play best when Pollock toiled in the ter­rain of Ten­nessee Wil­liams, Arthur Miller and Wil­liam Inge, and least when she skirted the kind of po­lit­i­cal world Bri­tain’s David Hare so loves and Theater Cal-

gary showed us last year with his Sky­light.

Pollock also vis­its the play­ful world of Thorn­ton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, as Gampy and Gwynt do some time-trav­el­ling and skip be­tween re­al­ity and fan­tasy.

Pollock and her di­rec­tor, Si­mon Mal­let, get the best per­for­mances from the sup­port­ing cast when­ever the play dwells in Amer­i­can re­al­ism.

Gampy’s grand­son Doug (Doug McKeag) has a scene with his own son Teddy (Tyrell Crews) that bris­tles with fierce hu­mour when the two men con­front a fam­ily skele­ton that fi­nally falls out of the closet. For me, it re­called a sim­i­lar scene from Wil­liams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and, like that pre­de­ces­sor, it says so much about tol­er­ance and ac­cep­tance.

There is also a scene be­tween Doug’s wife Eva ( Valerie Planche) and their daugh­ter Mag­gie (Alana Haw­ley) which is equally pow­er­ful, can­did and hon­est and, in both cases, there is no hint of ar­ti­fice in the per­for­mances.

We get real peo­ple fac­ing real is­sues, which means au­di­ences’ sym­pa­thies will ping-pong be­tween fa­ther and son and mother and daugh­ter.

The story un­folds with Gampy’s com­pany, now run by his grand­son Doug, hav­ing gone from ser­vic­ing coal mines in the Crowsnest Pass to sup­ply­ing equip­ment for oil com­pa­nies while also ex­pand­ing into a con­struc­tion com­pany.

Doug and his part­ner Frankie (Na­dine Ro­den) have also been dab­bling in for­eign in­ter­ests that are in dan­ger of im­plod­ing be­cause of the cor­rupt busi­ness­men and politicians they deal with.

Sim­i­larly, Doug’s con­struc­tion com­pany is build­ing a bar­rier to pro­tect his busi­ness from the im­pend­ing flood at the ex­pense of neigh­bour­ing lands be­long­ing to sev­eral First Na­tions fam­i­lies.

Teddy’s rag­ing against his fa­ther’s in­volve­ment in Third World coun­tries’ af­fairs and the lives of his neigh­bours does not ring nearly as true as when Teddy (Crews) is de­fend­ing him­self.

The same is true for Ro­den, who is all thun­der with­out any real light­ning.

The spokesper­son for the First Na­tions fam­i­lies is Kevin (Mar­shall Vielle), a lawyer more in­volved in Doug’s fam­ily than Doug could imag­ine.

Vielle spends most of his stage time on a cell­phone, though he does have a beau­ti­ful mo­ment at the end of the show when he re­lates a cre­ation story that puts so much of the play’s drama and hu­man­ity into fo­cus.

Narda McCar­roll has cre­ated a rather mag­i­cal set that al­lows fur­ni­ture and even peo­ple to rise up through the floor.

Di­rec­tor Mal­let is aware Pollock’s play is es­sen­tially a se­ries of in­ti­mate con­fronta­tions so, to avoid mak­ing it seem claus­tro­pho­bic on such a big stage, he uses ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to scat­ter the cast around the stage, cre­at­ing some pretty im­pres­sive tableaus.

Near the end of the play, at the height of the storm threat­en­ing to un­leash a flood, the fam­ily mem­bers re­al­ize they must re­treat to the roof if they are to sur­vive.

What they don’t know is Gampy and Gwynt are al­ready there.

The tableau of Gampy and Gwynt atop the house with Kevin try­ing to break through the roof to let the fam­ily join them should be pure the­atri­cal magic. In­stead, Mal­let and McCar­roll plunge the stage into dark­ness while they bring that roof onto the stage.

We ab­so­lutely need to see that hap­pen us­ing Michael Wal­ton’s light­ing and Andrew Bliz­zard’s sound de­sign to truly en­hance the mo­ment. Lazy di­rec­tion and de­sign ru­ined the ef­fect Pollock was go­ing for with that roof scene.

Though Pollock deals with many hot-but­ton top­ics, she does so with hu­mour that never min­i­mizes their im­por­tance and that is part of the ge­nius of her writ­ing.

Blow Wind High Wa­ter is a high wa­ter mark in Theatre Cal­gary’s il­lus­tri­ous 50 years be­cause it shows how com­mit­ted the com­pany is to show­cas­ing lo­cal tal­ent, from writ­ers and de­sign­ers to per­form­ers.

Blow Wind High Wa­ter is a per­fect sea­son opener for Theatre Cal­gary be­cause it show­cases how truly tal­ented lo­cal per­form­ers, writ­ers and di­rec­tors are, writes Louis B. Hobson.

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