Theatre review: Harvest spends too much time on the mechanics of its story

It takes less than ten minutes for the audience to realize what is happening in playwright Ken Cameron’s Harvest.  The rest of the time is spent getting his characters to that same place.

Looking to retire to the city, unloading the farm land that has existed in their families for years proves a lot easier for Charlotte and Allan than selling the home that sits on that land.  To help as they look for a buyer, the couple decide to rent out the homestead.  Taking the first offer they receive, the duo ignore all of the warning signs and soon discover that their new tenant is more interested in the secluded nature of the farmhouse, far from prying eyes, than as an escape from the rat race.

While allowing the audience to realize the intended use of the farmhouse early is a device designed to place us ahead of the hapless couple for comedic or dramatic affect, it ultimately takes Charlotte and Adam far too long to realize what is happening around them.  To make matters worse, very little of interest actually takes place in-between.  In this world of 24 hour news, had we not known going in that the story is loosely based on a real-life incident, it would have been even harder to swallow.

By intermission, an unusual addition for a play that is only 75 minutes in length, we were yearning for something, anything, to happen.  My theatre companion and I began coming up with potential scenarios for act two: the couple takes over the operation themselves to help fund their retirement, or maybe go all Tarantino on the perpetrator that got themselves there in the first place.  Unfortunately, there was little dramatic shift in act two.  Charlotte and Adam set about to fix the mess in the hopes of not losing the farmhouse and, not surprisingly, everyone eventually walks away happy.

Eileen Barrett and David Mann in the Gateway Theatre production of Harvest. Photo by David Cooper.
Eileen Barrett and David Mann in the Gateway Theatre production of Harvest. Photo by David Cooper.

Despite its predictable nature, it is hard not to argue with the playwright who, in a recent interview with the Richmond Review, said one of the joys of Harvest is in watching the two actors take on the various roles in the play.  Indeed, at times, Eileen Barrett and David Mann transition from the naive couple to the other characters in the story with incredible skill and some clever staging from director Jovanni Sy.  Barrett and Mann also bring some heartfelt moments to Cameron’s story, with the chemistry between the two engaging and believable, but even these two talented actors cannot overcome the snail pace in which the action unfolds.

A study in contrasts, Lauchlin Johnston’s set is dominated by a beautifully realized raspberry patch that we come to find out is the scene of a family tragedy, oddly offset by a tiny moveable set piece that becomes both the couple’s rural homestead and urban condo, complete with a coat hook on one side that gets far more attention than it deserves.

Rather than any deep exploration of the emotional meaning of home or the life-changing impact that face seniors like Charlotte and Adam as they leave their rural lives behind, Cameron spends far too much time on the mechanics of the situation.  We could have just as easily learned about that on the six o’clock news.

2 1/2 of 5 StarsHarvest

By Ken Cameron.  Directed by Jovanni Sy.  A Gateway Theatre production.  On stage at Richmond’s Gateway Theatre through March 16, 2013.  Visit http://www.gatewaytheatre.com for tickets and information.

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