Friday, May 17, 2013

Review: (Ottawa) Miss Caledonia

Melody A. Johnson, Alison Porter (courtesy: NAC)

How ya Gonna Keep em on the Farm
by Jim Murchison

Miss Caledonia has a thread bare set. A bench and a chair is all that is needed. Everything else is provided by Melody A. Johnson and accompanist Alison Porter on fiddle.

This is why it works quite well. The play is free of artifice or pretension; a simple story of a simple life and a simple dream. Melody A. Johnson is a completely engaging storyteller with an honest, straightforward style that reinforces the theme of a common rural dream to escape the farm and head to Hollywood. 

The story is basic. Peggy Ann Douglas (in real life, Johnson’s mother) reads about a simple country girl that gets a movie contract after winning a beauty pageant and decides that’s her best shot at escaping the farm and achieving something important. Of course when we strive for things we take risks and we learn things along the way... 

Ms. Johnson avoids the all too common urge to wallop an audience with a massive character count. She plays her mother, her grandfather, a busybody neighbour, a wannabe suitor, a couple of pageant judges and Bing Crosby. The transitions from character to character are crisp, clean and instantly understood. 

The other very nice aspect of the production is the very clear conversation between actress and accompanist. When I speak of a conversation here, I am not talking about the actress stopping to talk to the fiddler. The music is actually keyed in to the exact movement and motivation of the performer. There is a lovely scene where father and daughter are working a crosscut saw, where the treble and base line on the fiddle and the direction of the actress correlates to whether father or daughter are speaking. It's clever and effective.

The audience certainly appreciated the storytelling. A woman behind me said she would have applauded longer and was prepared for Johnson and Porter to take another bow, but it seems that might have been milking it and the only milking in this production is on the farm. Charming and honest is all that’s needed.  

runtime: approximately 1 hour 10 minutes with no intermission

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