Theatre review: Get some Asparagus in Big Oak
When it comes to staging the plays of Norm Foster, Dai Scott is your gal.
The director of Asparagus Community Theatre’s new production, Foster’s Ned Durango Comes to Big Oak, obviously loves the source material.
She’s made sure that every little detail has been adhered to.
Take the show’s set, designed by Scott, and constructed by a fine team of Asparagus volunteers. It could be any mom and pop diner from Arkansas to Armstrong, circa 1979. Painted in salmon pink, with pale floral wallpaper border, and featuring vintage signs, a jukebox and formica tables, you almost expect Flo in her beehive to come out yelling “Kiss my grits!”
(And for those who have no idea what I’m talking about, look up Mel’s Diner from Alice on YouTube.)
In this case, the diner is called Milly’s Cabin and is run by ex-hockey player Tom Shaw. Played by Rory White, doing a fine job in his first non-musical role for Asparagus, Tom has taken over the restaurant from his deceased mother.
And it’s at Milly’s, set somewhere in one of Canada’s eastern provinces, where all the action in Ned Durango takes place.
It’s at the diner where we are first introduced to the caustic town mayor Catherine Winger. Played by the radiant Laurisa DeFehr, who puts some swagger into this politician’s step, Catherine is sweating over her daughter’s choice of a mate as much as she is about Big Oak’s economic outlook.
Things are looking pretty grim in town due to businesses shutting down, that is, until Ms. Mayor is approached by a developer proposing to build a franchised theme park in her town. And coincidently, she happens to own a piece of property that would be the perfect spot to develop. (Conflicting interests, me thinks.)
Winger is also in a tizzy about the town’s upcoming Tomato Festival on the May long weekend, as it’s the same weekend the developers want to meet with her, so she dumps most of the planning of the festival parade on Tom’s shoulders. He, in turn, turns to his trusty sidekick for help.
The incarnation of a sweet country bumpkin, Orson Hubble is played by Asparagus newcomer Mark Trussell, who looks like a young Lorne Elliott channeling Stuart McLean.
As Orson, Trussell delivers some great one-liners with perfect timing, and he evokes pathos while lamenting his character’s disconnect with his 25-year-old daughter, Kay, whom he has never met face-to-face.
It’s Orson who comes up with an idea for the parade.
It turns out that Ned Durango, who made his name as a TV cowboy 30 years prior, is making an appearance at a mall in nearby Bangor, Maine. So Orson decides to go and wrangle himself a celebrity parade marshal for the festival.
A mixture of Woody from Toy Story and Howdy Doody’s Buffalo Bob Smith, Durango is played in fine southern accent by Kim Sinclair, even though we later find out his roots are closer to the northern border.
At first excited about their coup, Tom and Orson soon find out that their childhood hero has a penchant for the ladies and Kentucky bourbon, and he seems to forget things, including what he’s doing in Big Oak.
Orson’s anxiety also peaks when his daughter Kay phones to say she is coming to Big Oak, and she wants to meet with him on the same day as the parade.
Mayor Catherine is also freaking out because her daughter cannot be this year’s Tomato princess because she’s run off with her dim-witted boyfriend.
And, Tom, well, he tries to console everyone the best way he knows how.
These characters make Big Oak a place you’ll want to visit. In fact, you probably have visited a place like this — the play encapsulates any small town in Canada, Armstrong included.
As Ned says, “Keep a howdy on your lips and your feet in the stirrups,” and head on out to Armstrong for this funny and surprisingly touching play.
Ned Durango Comes to Big Oak continues at Armstrong’s Centennial Theatre this week, Wednesday through to Saturday with shows at 8 p.m. and a matinee Saturday at 2 p.m. Tickets are at The Guy Next Door in Armstrong, call 250-546-0950 to reserve.
— Kristin Froneman is the arts-entertainment editor at The Morning Star.