Team Wingfield’s new ve­hi­cle run­ning rough at Ed’s Garage

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Ran­dall King

THE spec­ta­cle of four ac­tors stand­ing foursquare on the Man­i­toba The­atre Cen­tre stage sig­nals a change-up in the work of play­wright Dan Nee­dles.

His com­edy, Ed’s Garage, is pre­cisely in the same city-meets-coun­try mi­lieu of Nee­dles’ pop­u­lar Wingfield se­ries, wherein a Bay Street stock­bro­ker chucked it all for a sim­ple life on the farm, only to dis­cover it’s not all that sim­ple.

Wingfield be­came one of Cana­dian the­atre’s most en­dur­ing com­edy fran­chises largely on the back of ac­tor Rod Beat­tie, who ably played Wingfield and other characters alone on the stage.

To use an ap­pro­pri­ately agri­cul­tural im­age, that fran­chise was pretty much milked dry af­ter seven plays.

Beat­tie is obliged to share the stage with three other ac­tors here, a sig­nal Team Wingfield (Beat­tie, Nee­dles and di­rec­tor Dou­glas Beat­tie) is branch­ing out into more con­ven­tional the­atre.

The tran­si­tion is not grace­ful, how­ever. Trad­ing heav­ily in home­spun wis­dom and coun­try-style psychology, the corn is not so much high as deep.

Ed (Beat­tie) runs an auto shop in the mori­bund farm­ing com­mu­nity of Port Pe­tu­nia, Ont. His side busi­ness is un­of­fi­cially psy­chi­atric: While you’re get­ting your oil change, Ed will lubri­cate your rusty psy­che with a com­bi­na­tion To March 7, Royal Man­i­toba The­atre Cen­tre Tick­ets: $29-$68.50

out of five of get-your-hands-dirty work ther­apy cou­pled with ama­teur psychology.

“You don’t just talk to them,” as­serts Ed’s right-hand man Nick (Dou­glas E. Hughes). “You fix them, like you fix their machines.”

Ed’s lat­est pa­tient is Peter Hin­dle (An­drew Ce­con), a hard-work­ing guy try­ing to do the right thing by con­vert­ing his par­ents’ farm­house to a bed-and-break­fast. He’s been driven crazy by a petty small-town bu­reau­cracy that seem­ingly ex­ists to stymie his ev­ery ef­fort.

When it is re­vealed he has come for court-man­dated anger-man­age­ment, it be­comes clear he has come to the wrong place. A purty l’il psy­chol­o­gist named Cassandra (Tracy Pen­ner) has put up her shin­gle next door to Ed’s Garage. When the mis­take is dis­cov­ered, she rea­son­ably agrees to share the re­spon­si­bil­ity of Peter’s treat­ment with Ed. Ro­man­tic com­pli­ca­tions in­evitably arise.

The premise does al­low some la­conic, out-of-left-field ob­ser­va­tional com­edy, Wingfield-style. Ed drops some deft zingers tar­geted at the agrar­ian de­mo­graphic (“He was a farmer... still is for tax pur­poses.”) and of­fers his nice comic ed­i­to­rial on why the round hay bale sig­nalled the fall of ru­ral civ­i­liza­tion.

But if this is a farm com­edy, it’s de­cid­edly not or­ganic.

Di­rec­tor Dou­glas Beat­tie moves characters around the stage like check­ers on a cracker bar­rel checker­board, and elic­its un­even per­for­mances from his pieces. Af­ter all those years play­ing Walt Wingfield, Rod Beat­tie is clearly in his el­e­ment rub­bing his hands with oil rags and dis­pens­ing the req­ui­site corn­pone. Dou­glas E. Hughes like­wise looks like he was born in baggy over­alls.

Ce­con mostly looks un­com­fort­able, and not just be­cause of the dis­tress of his char­ac­ter. A mis­cast Tracy Pen­ner is es­pe­cially at a dis­ad­van­tage. If her char­ac­ter is warm and sym­pa­thetic, Pen­ner comes off as brassy and stri­dent. It feels like some­one cast June Allyson in a role in­tended for Jean Arthur.

Set and cos­tume de­sign by Dana Os­borne is func­tion­ally rus­tic, if not in­spired, which is prob­a­bly an apt de­scrip­tion for this whole pro­duc­tion.

A con­ver­sa­tion with Ta­mara Gorski is kind of like an event movie. It is pop­u­lated with big names (Peter Jack­son, An­gela Lans­bury, Omar Sharif, and for genre fans, Bruce Camp­bell and Kevin Sorbo). It hops through a se­ries of in­ter­na­tional lo­ca­tions: Toronto, New York, Hol­ly­wood, New Zealand. There is glam­our, tragedy, in­trigue, and com­edy.

And there is a happy end­ing: Gorski is the happy mother of a baby girl, one of the rea­sons she came back to Win­nipeg is to raise her fam­ily.

But she has also re­turned with a passionate in­tent to re­new her ca­reer on mul­ti­ple fronts. She has al­ready landed roles in lo­cal film and TV in­clud­ing the se­ries Less Than Kind and in Sean Gar­rity’s up­com­ing sex-com­edy


From left, Pen­ner, Hughes and Beat­tie in Ed’s Garage.

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