Nova Scotia summer theatre roars back to life with Ship’s Company Theatre’s magical, laugh-out-loud production of Mary-Colin Chisholm’s Half-Cracked.
Artistic director Richie Wilcox saw the 2018 Eastern Front Theatre/Neptune Theatre premiere in Halifax and “I knew I had to program it!”
I also saw the 2018 show but so desperately wanted to see professional theatre again that I decided to drive up for a 2 p.m. matinee. It got a standing ovation from a masked audience sitting comfortably indoors in safe-feeling “pods” of seats.
Half-Cracked is a marvel of storytelling and timing with top-notch acting and a fantastic design in Merritt-winning sets by painter Holly Carr and Merritt-winning sound design by June Zinck.
Chisholm was inspired by tall tales she heard as a child in Antigonish to honour a disappearing way of life and create this wacky, enchanting world.
Two spinster sisters live quiet, somewhat frustrated, rural lives that run along smoothly enough until a surprise visit from Scott of Scottsdale, Arizona, a folklorist looking for a big discovery for his master’s thesis.
The actors exceed their already-excellent 2018 performances and new cast member Peter Sarty, taking over from Christian Murray as Scott, shoots off with the character like a bolting plant. He is all legs and eyes and nervousness with excellent comic timing and expressions.
Genevieve Steele is Sissy Mary, an odd, highly excitable creature who lives in the world of her imagination and spins tales to anyone who’ll listen. She talks to her beloved chicken Sheila and is curious about sex.
Sharleen Kalayil is Yewina, the crusty, stubborn, reserved sister who hunts for food and tries to tamp down her sister’s wildness. Sissy Mary seizes on Scott as her chance to captivate a man while Yewina tries hard to get rid of him.
There is real magic in this play. For example, imaginary tea is poured from an imaginary pot into a real cup, Steele uses her hip to bang shut a drawer that only exists as a 2-D drawing and Kalayil throws an imaginary book to Sarty who seemingly catches a real book.
Director Martha Irving has pulled out all the stops to make every detail rewarding in this cleverly designed and finely paced show with its cascade of language. Notice how the original silk paintings share colours with Jordyn Bochon’s costumes or how Scott’s polka dotted socks match his tea cup. Lighting designed by Garrett Barker and Ingrid Risk is also key, as are props designed by Zhen Ye Soh.
Half-Cracked, opening Ship’s 37th season live after a digital season last year, runs to July 25 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday with Saturday and Sunday matinees. Tickets are available online http://shipscompanytheatre.com, in person or by phoning (1-800-565-SHOW).
Wilcox, whose play Good Grief, runs Aug. 4 to 22, followed by Indigenous playwright Drew Hayden Taylor’s Cottagers & Indians, Sept. 2 to 5, said the company had worked really hard to make this season work given COVID-19 challenges. “Now we need you.”
THE SUMMER THEATRE SEASON
Two Planks and a Passion Theatre opens Schoolhouse, by Leanna Brodie, and Macbeth by Fire Saturday at the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts, just outside Canning. Both outdoor shows run to Sept. 4, Schoolhouse on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday, 6 p.m., and Sunday, 2 p.m. Macbeth by Fire is Tuesday, 9.30 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 9 p.m., and Saturday, 9.30 p.m. On July 24, 12:30 p.m. the company with Theatre du Poulet stages First Flight, representing a bird’s first flight using large-scale puppetry, as part of the National Arts Centre English Theatre’s Grand Acts of Great Hope series. http://www.artscentre.ca/twoplankscurrent.html
Shakespeare by the Sea stages A Midsummer Night’s Dream outdoors in Point Pleasant Park starring Jacob Sampson as Bottom, July 30 to Sept. 5 as well as its new By The Sea Series | 2021 (shakespearebythesea.ca).
Theatre Baddeck stages John Patrick Shanley’s Outside Mullingar, July 15 to Aug. 6, and Where You Are, by Kristen Da Silver, Sept. 2-25. a summer and a fall show. (theatrebaddeck.com)
Festival Antigonish (www.festivalantigonish.com), in a radical departure from 34 years of indoor, repertory theatre, is partnering with Keppoch Mountain for the outdoor, large-cast, promenade-style play, Robin Hood: The Great Escape, by Andrea Boyd and Laura Teasdale, runs Aug. 4 (preview) to Aug. 14.
Highland Arts Theatre in Sydney has wrapped its outdoor Comedy of Errors; upcoming are The Sea Shanty Show, July 29 to Aug. 8 and Samqwan, Aug. 17 to 22. (highlandartstheatre)
Neptune Theatre has programmed a fast-selling Reunited Summer Concert Series of live performances as a fundraiser to mount its 2021-2022 season. It also has a staycation summer theatre raffle for N.S. theatre tickets and cash ( Rafflebox – The easy way to fundraise! ) (neptunetheatre.com
The Chester Playhouse, badly damaged by fire in June, just announced the Playhouse Without Walls series in Chester this summer.(chesterplayhouse.ca),
The lineup includes an outdoor screening of The Princess Bride July 30 in Lordly Park; concerts by The Town Heroes, Reeny Smith and the second annual outdoor concert Playhouse on Pleasant with Casual Cries for Help, Caribou Run and Jennah Barry and theatre including Shorts & Suites presented in collaboration with the Chester Drama Society, Hello City Improv featuring Chester Tales, and A Tale on Two Wheels. True crime writer Dean Jobb rounds out the summer.
Gale Force Theatre, of Franziska Glen and Lily Falk, tours its free, outdoor kids’ show, A Tale on Two Wheels, for ages 18 months to 6, at parks and outdoor spaces delivered by tandem bicycle. It’s going throughout HRM and into the province.( Our Shows – Gale Force Theatre)
The Halifax Fringe Festival runs Sept. 2 to 14 and currently is planning on smaller audiences in larger spaces, outdoor venues and all local content. Application fees have been waved and applications are due July 25. (http://halifaxfringe.ca)