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Amiable play short on high points

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With two actors playing multiple roles, a rural setting and a mildly patronizing tone, this reality-inspired comedy by Calgary playwright Ken Cameron feels a tad like a entry in Dan Needles' farm-friendly theatrical franchise with an unseemly infusion of drug trafficking: Wingfield Goes to Pot.

Not that marijuana is ever actually consumed onstage. Hardly a head comedy, this rustic misadventure aims squarely for the heart.

Cameron was inspired by an incident that touched his aging parents. They rented their rural farmhouse to a man claiming to be a WestJet pilot looking for a little country comfort. In fact, the man used the house as a grow-op for an indoor marijuana plantation.

Because such operations require a combination of heat and humidity, grow-op properties are prone to toxic black mould, rendering them unfit for human habitation. The property was the couple's retirement nest egg, and such a prospect was potentially devastating.

Cameron primarily uses that plot thread to examine the relationship of the long-married couple. Sparks fly between Allan Duncanson (Tom Anniko) and his wife Charlotte (Megan McArton), but not in the soul-stripping Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf template. The plain-spoken Charlotte impulsively corrects Allan when he talks about how their farm has been in the family for more than a century. Allan responds by observing that an argument with his wife is as futile as "talking sense to a tornado."

The two somehow manage to agree to sell the farm property so they can take up a more comfortable retirement residence in a condo. The impending house sale will secure their future, as the Canada Pension Plan offers little security for a farmer as Allan asserts. CPP? "Just shoot me now," he says in one of the play's Wingfield-esque shout-outs to aggies in the audience.

Renting out the house seems a viable option, especially when the tenant is the seemingly affable Ron. But Ron's sunglasses hide his shifty motivations.

The comedy has its inventive moments, as when Anniko uses a crop of sunflowers to illustrate how the tight-knit rural community bands together to put pressure on a recalcitrant insurance adjuster. (Brian Perchaluk's elegant garden set design is put to interesting use here.) And Anniko and McArton are admirably game when it comes to portraying the other characters who fall into the couple's orbit, often trading off on playing a single character as required.

One such character is the cop who breaks the bad news to the couple about the after-effects of the grow-op. Played by either actor, he is an especially heinous cliché, armed with coffee and a doughnut, and spouting marijuana synonyms like some caricature out of a '70s underground comic book. Director Arne MacPherson gets no points for subtlety here.

Granted, subtlety is not the comedy's strong suit. Cameron ultimately decided the story here would ultimately serve as a homage to his parents, and it feels duly dutiful, affectionate and uncritical. It's a nice gift.

Dramatically speaking, however, it amounts to stems and seeds and precious little bud.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 5, 2014 G10

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