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by Michael Melski
Gateway Theatre, Richmond
October 12-28

More than half the job of good directing is good casting, and director Rachel Ditor hit the jackpot when she cast The Fly Fisher’s Companion. If I were casting an odd couple geezer comedy in Vancouver, I’d probably cast Duncan Fraser and Richard Newman, too. Although both are a long way from being “over 70,” as Michael Melski’s script indicates, these two slightly grizzled veteran actors have individually attractive contrasting styles and the comic chops to make a formulaic script lift off and even, at times, soar—or at least, using Melski’s terms, stay afloat.

With all due respect to my friend and colleague Peter Birnie, this IS Norm Foster—a formulaic Canadian comic two-hander with much witty repartee and some built-in melodramatic plot elements based on secondary characters we never meet. It’s not the worst kind of Norm Foster play nor the best. The Gateway has produced both kinds. Melski, like Foster, is G-rated, audience-friendly, and unlikely to offend anyone.

Fraser and Newman are Don and Wes, old friends and war buddies who have been estranged for many years, for heavily dramatic reasons which we will learn. They’ve come to their families’ co-owned fishing cabin on Cape Breton’s Margaree River for relaxation and reconciliation. In the first act we see Don, a retired writer, as the free spirit who never puts the toilet seat down after he pees and is enthusiastic about going out for a long day’s fishing. Wes, the businessman, is the uptight workaholic grump who complains about his arthritis, resists the rainy outdoors, and wants to sell the cabin to make a profit. In the second act their positions and dispositions are reversed. And all the crucial plot points about their past are revealed. And we find out which one of them is dying.

The plot, such as it is, is pretty much irrelevant. I found it interesting only in its potential for what it could have been. Given their revelations about a third army buddy and how much more they have valued each other than they have their wives, I thought the play might have developed into something like Brokeback Creek. Yeah, fly-fishing. Nice metaphor.

But really it’s all about the give and take between these two actors who have such texture and so many moves and are such a pleasure to watch. With a broad accent that sounds as much like County Kilkenny as Cape Breton, Newman is still the schlep with a heart of gold. Fraser plays his usual curmudgeon to perfection. They work together like a jazz duo, riffing off each other with their separate instruments, using dissonance to great effect, finding harmonies in the strangest places.

They make excellent companions for an unchallenging but entertaining evening in the theatre.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Wednesday, October 25, 2006 12:10 PM
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