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Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Border and Time Crossing with Bordertown Cafe

Directed by Katherine Kaszas

The story: With an overbearing American grandmother, a taciturn Canadian grandfather, a mother who was born in America but is Canadian by choice and an absentee American father, how does a Canadian-born teenager get advice or values? And when they all live and work around a café that straddles the Canadian-US border, will their differences ever coalesce into anything resembling a family?

Much of the humour in Bordertown Café is based on the endless, grudging amusement Canadians feel for our cousins to our south, and the stereotypes we like to believe are true. The proudly American Maxine, Jimmy’s grandmother, prattles in a passive-aggressive way in her Minnesota accent about the greatness the States has to offer, while his quiet, observant grandfather gets things done by letting them be. The mom, Marlene, is as inarticulate as Maxine is talkative, and Jimmy takes after his mom. It’s no wonder the communication in this family takes left and right-hand turns willy-nilly; no one ever comes right out and says what needs to be said.

In this way, each character’s story unfolds in tantalizing little pieces, each thread growing a little more colourful as the actors breathe life into them.

A newcomer to Blyth, Nathan Carroll captures Jimmy’s vacillating uncertainty and reminds each member of the audience what it is like to be awkwardly seventeen. Although it turns out Jimmy’s main desire is to take care of his mother, he yearns to be the man he sees in his grandfather, but hopes for a more normal life than he can have living in the back few rooms of a café. He has a decision to make.
As played by Brad Rudy, Jim does finally show young Jimmy that he is not the untarnished paragon he seems to be, allowing Jimmy the freedom to make that choice. At first the strong, silent type, Mr. Rudy gets Jim to unbend little by little to reveal a man who did have younger and stupider days, and who has seen more of the country than he lets on.

He is also a rather doting father to Marlene, played by Marion Day, who turns to him, rather than her mother, when she cannot find the words to talk to Jimmy herself. She has the words – Ms. Day fires them out so rapidly she stirs Marlene into a veritable tizzy with her imagined suppositions – but not the ability to say the right thing at the right time.

Although she shares it, this disability does not stop Maxine, however. Talking over, under and through everyone else non-stop, Michelle Fisk gives Maxine such a motor-mouth that the audience barely has time to keep up with her “Maxine-isms”, such gems like “He may be slow but he’s not stupid”, or “Violence in America is somethin’ the Russians don’t have.” Ms. Fisk shows the greatest range, being peppery for most of the play but dissolving into hurt and alarm with the knowledge her beloved grandson might leave.

The entire cast shows great ease with each other, moving around the intricately cluttered set and each other with impeccable timing that keeps the audience in the palms of their hands. Thank director Katherine Kaszas for this, keeping everyone as tightly wound as the prairie is wide; the result is an honest look at what it means to be a family that spans the couple of decades since it was orignally written, and transcends all borders entirely.

Bordertown Café continues in repertory at the Blyth Festival until August 14th.

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