There were ten artists who became collectively known as Canada’s “Group of Seven” or ‘The Algonquin Club’. Of these, the most famous was Tom Thomson and he was actually more of an associate than an actual member. His mysterious death is the subject of Jim Betts’ musical “COLOURS IN THE STORM”, and Sheridan’s performing Arts faculty has enlisted him to direct 18 undergrads in a creative, moving interpretive presentation at the Studio Theatre.
The set and staging are imaginative, and artistic in their own right. A painted floor evokes the autumnal carpet of leaves; with stark trees and rustic props, including a water-filled barrel that defines the unique sounds of a lake: – whether casting a line; skipping stones, peeing overboard or paddling. Betts compositions, and musicians under Stephen Woodjetts, conjure up an evening of a first-rate Folk concert!
The music is dramatic and interpretive, the lyrics – pure poetry. Resourceful positioning and posed movements add to the imagery. Strategically placed easels display Thomson’s celebrated paintings. Using them as a backdrop illustrates seasonal changes plus the artist’s creative growth. Consequently, the play is also Art Appreciation 101! Costumes epitomize the backgrounds and status of each of the protagonists.
The title role is played Trevor Patt and he IS what this writer imagines that Thomson really was. Intense in his acting, he assuages his fervency with a tenor voice that is almost velvet. Directorially-inspired timing and dramatic pauses add to his portrayal. His major love interest is Winnie, and Ann Potter contributes more than just her outstanding soprano voice. Projection, stance and phrasing seem a natural manifestation of her singing style. Her facial countenance is a super mix of Michaela Conlin (Angela –‘Bones’) and Cybil Shepherd! Thomson’s Toronto-days girlfriend – Frances is Claire Rouleau and unfortunately has too youthful a façade to be someone so much older (15 years) than the almost middle-aged artist. A strong support cast-member is James Frantowski, whose Park Ranger cum friend is also the historian of the artist. By underplaying his portrayal, there is realism about the character and his place in the narrative. He & Patt have a fishing duet titled ‘The one that got away’ that is hoedown in style and a toe-tapper hit.
The potential miscreants in Thomson’s demise are Corey Agnew as Bletcher- Winnie’s suitor; Adrian Zeyl who represents the jealous Shannon Fraser; Miranda Atkinson is his wife; and Curtis Brown who is the local guide and poacher. These are strong interpretations except for the latter that although talented, is way too hammy and offbeat. He’s the diametric opposite of Camila Diaz-Varela whose character may be off-the-wall; but her intensity and fervour is so outstanding that she is a scene-stealer from her opening aria ‘Algonquin’ to her physical altercation (and its strong sexual overtone), with the artist.
There is a sub-plot that involves a recuperating invalid Dr. MacCallum, played by Matthew Fuller whose reading will be recognizable to any audience members who have or had a favorite & supportive uncle. In reality, this character was a chum of the scion to the Harris (of Massey-Harris fame) fortune and were supportive of Canadian art.
COLOURS IN THE STORM is an interesting, polished and memorable piece of Canadiana. Hopefully, and deservedly, the play should go theatrically ‘mainstream’. Until then, it will be at Sheridan’s Trafalgar campus until December 8th.
Two disappointments, the play compares some artwork-demolishing by a lynx to its being a critic! That hurts. Additionally, this scribe was in the midst of jotting down a bon mot banner-line just as houselights rose for intermission. Our B.C. seatmate’s impatient desire [or need] to exit meant a thought-break, so … No banner line!