Canadian Stage's "Homechild"This play had much to offer to make it likeable - a terrific cast, featuring Eric Peterson, in a role perfect for an actor at this stage of his career, playing a crotchety, angry, old man, who is clearly hiding a secret guilt, giving the actor the opportunity to melt the audience at the end as he confronts his past troubles, and along the way allows his character to rebuild thwarted relationships with his loved ones. You know the lights will go down at the end of his bravura speech reognizing the ways that he has wasted his life. And unfortunately, you know it and are right.
I usually feel merely manipulated by endings like this, unless there is some real meat in the story leading up to it that makes me feel strongly engaged. And I did not find the meat I normally like.
The plot was based on the history of the Barnardo emigrations - take note that the play does not reflect the rather positive spin that the Wikipedia entry I linked to puts on the effectively forced emigration of children to Canada, possibly for adoption, but also likely for what amounted to indenture, with all the obvious potential to tear families apart and blight lives.
Unfortunately the object of the lead character's guilt is incarnated on stage during the whole play, and I found this 'spirit' (no doubt representing the poor fellow's guilt, and memory), and the rather forced winsomeness of this figure drove me up the wall until about three-quarters of the way through the play.
It is too bad; there was much nice writing, replicating the feel of families and friends talking about family-and-friend things, and performed wonderfully by Brenda Robins, Randy Hughson, Tom Rooney, Patricia Hamilton, Barbara Gordon, and Joyce Campion, a wonderful cross-section of the vital performing community we do have here in Canada. Most of the scenes were a very enjoyable mix of humour and sentiment, and it was a pleasure to watch such skill applied, to fine effect. I felt a bit sorry for the newcomer, Lara Jean Chorostecki, who was surely directed to behave in ways that had my teeth grinding at her character.
There were many people giving a standing ovation at the end, so one should not take my reaction too seriously. In many ways this play was perfect for the audience I watch with - I am a matinee subscriber, and in the same way that I recall movie matinees teeming with uncontrollable loud children (when I still went to movies), theatre matinees here teem with those of us at the other end of the age spectrum (for the same reason - early bedtimes), and this audience lapped up Peterson's excellent portrayal of a reconciliation with elements of his past.
Once again I was stunned to be able to see the performers clearly; before my recent surgery I did not know this was even possible in the theatre.