With the possibility of the Keystone Pipeline in the news, with all its controversy, it’s hard to ignore the energy sector while living in this province. Downstage Theatre was thinking just that and their premiere in the Enbridge playRites Festival, Good Fences, is about the relationship between energy and agriculture.
The play tells of Devon (Braden Griffiths), a family man from Calgary who buys a house in the agricultural lands south of the City. He wants it as a weekend getaway, where his young son can ride around on his ATV. He meets Caroline (Ellen Close), his neighbour and cattle rancher. They decide that they are going to move the barbed wire fence on his property together. Then talks begin to brew about a local energy company who wants to build a sour gas pipeline through the town and Devon meets the representative (Nicola Elson) whose job it is to push the project through. Devon decides that he wants to fight the project, despite working for an oil company himself, and rallies Caroline to push through the appeals system with him. It means convincing fellow neighbour (Col Cseke) and his wife to give up the financial reward of having the company run a pipeline through their land.
Good Fences does a stellar job of illustrating the different points of view by grounding the story in characters and relationships. The corporation is represented by a human face. The audience can feel the tension when the rural community is trying to stay together and present a unified case against the development, but circumstances and relationships are pulling it apart. The play is poignant and all of the actors put forward strong performances. Close in particular does an outstanding job as Caroline, blending cold and polite and emitting quiet frustration through her body language. She is well deserving of her emerging artist nomination.
The interesting aspect of Good Fences is that the fictional play is inter-spliced with live interviews from the creative ensemble. They talk about their work throughout the project, their research and interviews, and their struggle to keep their bias out of their research. These interviews make use of video projections, similarly to the other plays in the festival. The video projections are effective, as they ground the interviews within the timeline of the project for Downstage and give the audience the names of the people speaking, but these interviews pull the audience from the drama. These interviews illustrate how this play was based in research for the creative team, but it gives the presentation of the play a rough edge, instead of a polished one.
The staging of the play is impressive and something that this blogger has come to know Downstage’s creations for (especially after their play In the Wake). Blocks are moved throughout the play to create physical divisions between characters and the table folds directly into the stage.
Good Fences is more about creating a conversation about the existing relationship between energy and agriculture. It is noted in the play and also in the talk back that five of the six sponsors for the festival are energy companies. This play is a great way to peer into this relationship, sometimes contemptuous, always controversial, that has far-reaching effects on everyone who calls this province home.
Good Fences is part of Alberta Theatre Projects Enbridge playRites Festival of New Canadian Plays. The festival is entering its 26th year. Tickets are available at the door or at atplive.com