During the 1st World War, a guy named Tom Thomson invented GPS and named it after his own nomenclature – “TOM TOM”! FALSE, Untrue, Bogus…he was a painter that was associated with, but not part of Canada’s “Group of Seven” (actually 11!). The circumstances of his death in Algonquin is still a mystery and Jim Betts’ musical offers up two resolutions for the audience’s selection. Neither is prioritized but rather strictly submitted. The Oakville Players and its talented director Mary Rose make the event seem contemporary.
This Mr. ‘T’ drew commercial pictures for the Eaton’s Catalogue and other commercial mundane-ary in order to have enough funds to head up North to capture its intrinsic beauty and colour. His relationships with the local inhabitants; the culture; and even the folklore become clues and rationale for his demise. The local lodge-keeper and his wife figure inherently as do the game warden; a couple and their single daughter; a poacher; the daughter’s suitor and especially a maybe-dead wood nymph. However, it’s the painter and his famous works that are the pivots of the plot. The projected artwork and its subject matter are thrilling; the portrayal of the artist…less so.
Thomson is played by Jack Verrips and he’s an incomplete canvas. Poor projection, exaggerated poseur-ing almost like seeking a teleprompter overhead, and dialogue that’s recited rather than emoted, unfortunately makes this, and him, the weak link. Fortuitously, clever directing and marvellous attention to details plus strong support cast more than balance the overall impression one will glean from this musical effort. The sprite of the story is sung and acted by Alyssa Blasak who is every bit a ‘Puck’ or ‘Ariel’ yet still imbues her character with a serious albeit subtle demeanor. The warden also is the narrator and David Turnbull brings credibility to both challenges. Rose has him talk to the audience without utilizing the theatrical vehicle of asides; as if we’re all part of the local community. Both Robin Sadavoy as the love interest, and Carla Zabek who is the innkeeper’s wife with an agenda of her own, contribute strong, albeit stereotypical, characterizations. Sadavoy’s rendering of her ‘Over the Dam’ number; and her duet with Zabek entitled ‘Wildflowers’ showcase not only their voices but terpsichorean talents as well.
An essential role is that of the lodge proprietor ‘Shannon Fraser’ whose influence within the community also affects attitude and acceptance. The part also requires a brief representation of Lawren Harris and Michael Brown is outstanding in both exemplifications. His brogue may be a little weak but his acting; intensity, posturing and personal torment are visceral. As Sadavoy’s parents; Catherine Ross & Murray Atkinson both offer credibility in their respective portrayals.
The costumes by Sharon Vandenberg look natural and certainly define both locale and period. The lighting; sound effects and especially the backdrop projections make this entire production worthwhile and entertaining. Brian Turnbull’s sextet never overpowers, and definitely enhances the musical numbers.
A personal ‘thank-you’ to the director/producer for understating Betts mocking of fifth estate critiquing by making a comparison with a lynx defacing a piece of art. Last time we saw the play, that director’s emphasis made us want to slide under our seats!
Thomson and company will be at the Oakville Centre until Nov. 15th.