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Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Heebie-Jeebies Galore: The Blyth Festival opens with A Killing Snow

Directed by Kate Lynch
Starring Catherine Fitch, Gil Garratt, Patricia Hamilton, Sam Malkin and Lisa Norton

The Story: Four individual travelers must take shelter when they are driven off the road during a heavy blizzard just after Christmas in Huron County. One person is dead, an unfortunate soul who ended up in a ditch. The home that the others invade belongs to a retired Latin teacher, and strangely enough, each person seems to have a connection to the other. Stranger still, they all have a connection to this dead language, Latin. "Dead" being the operative word…

There is nothing like a locked-room mystery to tease one’s ‘little grey cells’, as one famous fictional detective would put it. Take five people who dislike each other for as yet unknown reasons, put them in a locked room, have the lights go out, add some mysterious messages and discordant string music, and voila – a murder occurs. Make the locked room an isolated house in southwestern Ontario as a wild winter storm rages, and according to writer Paul Ciufo, the same thing might happen. Now. Whodunit?

Is it Gerry, the bitter Latin teacher? He has had his home invaded by (almost) strangers, one of whom seems keen to get a look at his latest manuscript.

Is it Callie, the young grad student, who can’t quite get her career off the ground?
Is it Alena, the sophisticated classics professor, whose summer cottage on Lake Huron is threatened by factory-farm run-off?
Is it Libby, the older woman, who sees much more than she lets on?

Is it Jack, the arrogant farmer-cum-model, who likes to run off at the mouth?

There are problems with the story. For a start, what are the odds that five people anywhere today know that much Latin, let alone in one isolated cottage? Yes, it gives a great classic tone to the dialogue (it is always translated) but the way it is tied to the killer's motive is tenuous at best. And, because of the way one character is written, it is fairly easy to recognize said character as the murderer. However, there are enough red-herrings, plot-twists and down-right creepifying special effects to keep even the biggest mystery fan thoroughly entertained, and the cast is excellent.

Actor/director Gill Garatt provides the comic relief as Jack, the farmer with what seems to be a big heart and an unfortunately bigger mouth. His main foil is in Lisa Norton as Callie, at her best when in taking histrionics about who the killer might be. Sam Malkin returns to Blyth after a long absence as the curmudgeon Gerry, and manages to show Gerry’s irritation and outrage but have it tinged with just a bit of panic when things move out of his control. Catherine Fitch gives Alena just the right hint of smugness as the successful prof, and Patricia Hamilton (snagged from the Shaw Festival), runs the gamut of emotion as Libby, from tough-as-nails mother, to sympathetic friend, from frightened victim to quirky prescient.

There were a few technical glitches during this particular performance – the audience probably is not supposed to see how the mysterious messages appear, nor see the side door open and close in the dark (one of the house lights reflects off of its window), but these few are easily outstripped by the other tricks and treats from the tech department: a constantly howling wind, sinister string music, frequent blackouts, a stage lit with only lanterns, and a kitchen window that occasionally shows more unnatural things than the storm outside.

The story as a whole may have plot holes big enough to drive a snowmobile through, but it was nevertheless highly enjoyable for this mystery fan. Especially since on the drive back to Stratford I was following a full, Halloween-orange moon, there were wisps of low, thick fog that kept enveloping my car, and I passed a truck, stopped on the side of the road, flashing its distress lights. I confess, I didn’t stop. A Killing Snow had freaked me out enough for one night! It continues in repertory at the Blyth Festival until August 13th.

And yes, that would be Friday the 13th, too…

1 comment:

  1. Robyn:

    You don't have a contact email so I'm using this box as a way to get a hold of you. I am arts reviewer for Classical 96.3 in Toronto and back-up theatre critic for the Globe and Mail. I'm never included in your list of reviewers of Stratford or Blyth and I feel left out.

    My reviews can be found on or Alas, I have not been very good at transferring my reviews onto my new website, but I hope to get that ammended soon.


    Paula Citron


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