One of the biggest problems with theatre in Vancouver is the ability of some of the smaller companies to afford runs of any significant length. Unless you’re one of the bigger players in town more-often-than-not you find your play relegated to only a few short performances; blink and they are gone.
And this is a real shame for shows like Ashes by Bill Marchant currently playing at the Firehall Arts Centre through Saturday, March 28 as this show definitely deserves an audience.
A play in three acts (I know, when is the last time you actually sat through a three act play…), Ashes takes place in the same family cabin in Northern Ontario in 1999, 1979 and 2002.
Act one sees the three brothers Grayson (Patrick Currie), Dale (Matt Fentiman) and Walker (Stephen Park) at the cabin to fulfill the final wishes of their father. Here the brothers reminisce, argue and come to some final understanding of a few of their family’s darker secrets. Grayson is the oldest who tries to control, Walker the alcoholic gay brother and the younger Dale who is shocked to learn that he was secretly blamed for a major family tragedy.
Act two moves back twenty years and we meet the brother’s parents Owen (Dimitri Arvanitis) and Reen (Tamara Prescott) and their “weird” uncle Andy (Patrick Spencer). From this perspective we see how the brothers become their parents and a reinforcement of the revelations in the first act.
Act three skips ahead 23 years as the brothers once again reunite at the family cabin and prepare for its sale. Along for the trip this time is Grayson’s son Tim (Taylor Bishop) who, as the final act progresses, we discover is doomed to follow in his own father’s footsteps and the cycle begins again.
There are some incredible performances here from the cast. Currie, Fentiman and Park as the three brothers have a very natural chemistry that makes their relationship ultimately believable and Taylor Bishop as Tim provides just the right balance of innocence and grown-up sensibility.
But for me the real stand-out here is Tamara Prescott as mother Reen who gives a perfect performance of a woman with a few too many “G and Ts” in her system with both an anger and incredible vulnerability just below the surface ready to erupt at any moment. Prescott not only plays one of the best drunks I have seen on stage but does a superb job in one of the most graphic scenes of the show.
Director Greg Bishop must take a lot of the credit here for these superb performances as well, helping his actors to breathe real life into Marchant’s characters. Bishop also does double-duty here as set designer with great results right down to the cabin’s fridge door that won’t stay closed and the spot-on decision to make few changes to the cabin through the decades.
We are told that Playwright Marchant resisted the production of his play for some time (at one point “languishing on a shelf for seven years”) but given the believability and intensity of the story we can see why. While it is never stated we cannot help but think the power of the piece comes from a very personal and real space for Marchant and we are all better for having been able to share this with him.
Ashes continues at the Firehall Arts Centre through Saturday, 28 March. Visit http://www.eyeheartproductions.com for tickets and information.