GAIL MARTIN, Independent Editor
Elmira Theatre Company is off to a splendid start to their 2012-13 season, with it current production of Harvest.
The play, written by Albertan playwright Ken Cameron, looks at what happens when an aging farm couple, the Duncansons, decide to give up the farm and move into the city.
While they were able to sell the farmland, no one was interested in the house, so they decided to rent it out to a “nice young man.”
That nice young man ends up being not quite so nice, turning the farmhouse into a marijuana grow-op. This makes for plenty of laughs, but also for many bittersweet moments as the Duncansons fear that they will lose everything they have worked for their entire lives.
Harvest is based on the real-life story of Cameron’s parents, who had the same experience. The entire play takes place on a spare set, with a simple frame outline used to represent, at times, the house, the raspberry patch, and the new condo that the Duncansons purchase.
Harvest is told from the point of view of the farmers, who share their story while acting out the various characters involved. That means the two actors, Michelle DiTomasso as Charlotte Duncanson and Trevor Smith Diggins as Allan Duncanson, take on all the roles, switching back and forth between such characters as their young renter, to an officious insurance agent, to the gaggle of women at the local church, commiserating over the plight of the Duncansons, to their Hungarian neighbour, Istvan.
DiTomasso and Diggins are both newcomers to Elmira Theatre, but their performances demand a return engagement at some time in the future. Both actors are impeccable as they switch between characters, showing great range as actors, as well as a flare for comedic timing.
Little touches are used to help the audience keep track of which character is which. When the Duncansons are talking to the local police officer after their grim discovery at the farmhouse, they take turns wearing the officer’s hat, as they mimic a rural officer who has the time to chit-chat about which of his sisters married which local boy.
This is the first performance by Elmira Theatre Company that has been directed by former EDSS drama teacher Gord Davis, the man that is often credited for the start of ETC, given that so many of his former students have been involved since its inception more than three decades ago. Davis is known throughout the area as a superb director, and his influence is definitely felt in this performance.
The writing is also superb. Given the subject matter, the jokes are quick to come, but there are also many moments that highlight just how difficult it is for a farm couple to let go of a life they have always known.
Numerous local references have been added to the play — the local “Mennos” that have gone bad, growing marijuana in their parents’ barn in Wallenstein, and the name of a local realtor, Paul Martin, is used in signage when the Duncansons sell their farm.
Harvest is really a love story — the love story of the Duncansons, who have shared both joy and tragedy while living 42 years on the same rural property, and a love story about place — about how you can truly love a little bit of land, and the way of life that comes with it.
It is also a nostalgic look back on the way things were. Cameron, in his play, comments on how little mom-and-pop operations no longer exist, replaced by larger corporate entities that might be efficient, but have no heart, and also looks at how the family farm is something that is also rapidly disappearing from our world. He is making the argument that while change is a part of life, some changes are not necessarily for the better.
Harvest is a play that is likely to resonate with local audiences, many of whom may well be facing some of the same struggles as the Duncansons face.
It will make you laugh, but it will also make you think — and want to take the time to value what’s really important.
That’s a good thing.
Harvest runs from now until Sept. 22 at the Elmira Theatre Company’s theatre on Howard Avenue. Performances run Thursday through Saturday, starting at 8 p.m., with matinee performances on Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are available by calling The Centre in the Square box office at 519-578-1570.