Sep 12

Theatre Calgary’s ‘Blow Wind High Water’ is missing flow

by Jenna Shummoogum · 0 comments

To kick off its 50th season, Theatre Calgary has turned to Sharon Pollock to write a play that revolves around the flood of 2013 in Calgary. Pollock was the artistic director of Theatre Calgary back in 1984 and is a playwright as well as an actress. World premiere Blow Wind High Water centers on a family on the cusp of change, being pulled back into the past and looking to the future. Taking place in Calgary, the play is full of magic and attempts to capture the spirit of Alberta, but the narrative has more than one leak. 

The play tells of old man Gampy (Stephen Hair) who knows his time is almost up, because his friend tells him so. A friend named Gwynt (Julie Orton) that only he can see. The audience assumes what he needs to take care of is his family, including his middle-aged grandson Doug (Doug McKeag) who has recently broken his leg and is generally surly about it.

Doug has taken over Gampy and his father’s company and is running more and more risks with his business partner Frankie (Nadine Roden). His wife Eva (Valerie Planche) worries about everyone, including Gampy who wanders away from home a lot in the middle of the night. Their son Teddy (Tyrell Crews) is keeping secrets with Kevin (Marshall Vielle Naatoa’yotako) and his sister Maggie (Alana Hawley). The family tries to survive each other’s personal motives and the rising water from the brewing storm.

Blow Wind High Water is inherently a political play. There is commentary on pipelines, indigenous relations, profit, risk, and integrity. There is a thread in the story that keeps the audience engaged - what does Gampy still have to do? - and it almost makes up for the filler within the narrative. Gampy has dementia or the symptoms of it, as his interactions with his family are rapid and confused, telling tall tales. The characters that are fond of him, however, are patient and have smoother conversations with him, like Maggie, and occasionally Doug. But Eva is frustrated with him and is tired of him getting lost in the middle of the night. The filler is Gampy talking nonsense to his timekeeper spirit Gwynt, not connecting thoughts or story-lines beyond the necessity of the dialog. This makes for a disjointed narrative and an audience waiting around for something to happen. When moments of the story finally spark to life, Gampy falls back into his incoherent rambling and the play loses momentum.

The actors embody their characters well and they give the play its needed depth. McKeag’s performance is of note, as he humanizes Doug’s struggle to do the right thing for his family and also for the business. Hawley and Planche have a great dynamic between them and give the conflict a whole lot of punch. Orton’s performance is playful and airy, where her lightness is a foil to Hair’s suffering. By contrast, Naatoa’yotako’s performance was flat and his performance felt scripted and inauthentic during passionate dialog.

This all took place on a stage designed beautifully by Narda McCarroll, with the leveled set appearing and disappearing with a backdrop of a roof and clouded sky along with the innovate portrayal of heavy rain and lighting design by Michael Walton. Andrew Blizzard’s moving sound design portrays the characters tension and the ominous storm that causes the flood.

Blow Wind High Water has great elements of real life struggles and humor to tell an engaging story, and we understand that ultimately, you can either move where the water takes you or be taken down standing against it. Regrettably, the story takes a long time to get there and it loses the audience in its wake.

Theatre Calgary’s world premiere of Blow Wind High Water by Sharon Pollock runs until September 30th. More information can be found online.

Photo Credit: Trudie Lee Photography

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