JC’S THEATRE SPOTLIGHT – The Boat

In Cape Breton, it’s not a fisherman’s life.  It’s the life of the fisher-family. 

Fredericton playwright Ryan Griffith’s adaptation of the brilliant short story by Alistair MacLeod, The Boat is the story of a vessel that means everything to one Port Hawkesbury family.  It’s a livelihood, a family business, a future, a past.  It’s a source of food and finance, of pride, anxiety, and tragedy.  It’s a pastime, a conversation piece, and the surest measure of time.  Ultimately, the unforgiving force of nature makes The Boat a threat to the family itself.

It’s decades since Neptune Theatre has hosted a Theatre New Brunswick production, and this is a perfect piece to welcome back to Halifax.  A quintessential Maritime story, the struggle of a family to determine whether they should continue to follow the timeless tradition of the inshore fishery or follow their own personal dreams even if it means leaving the Coast. 

Ron Kennel is wonderful as the son, who also takes on the narrator’s duty, relating in a voice that deftly ranges from child to man his inner turmoil - whether to finish school or go to work on The Boat, even before he turns 16.  He’s influenced by his uncle (Graham Percy) to pursue the fishing life.  Uncle loves the fun of working on the open water, where he says you eventually get used to the numb, bleeding hands – eventually, he tells the boy, your hands do the work all on their own. 

His father is a different story.  Played by Jon De Leon, the father is a man conflicted.  His real passion is reading books.  His own abandoned dreams of university, where libraries abound, is reawakened when he encounters a couple of vacationing students from Boston who enlist him to tell the story of life on The Boat for a documentary.  He encourages his boy to put his own “selfish” desires ahead of the family tradition, as has his many female siblings, even if it could sever the fishing legacy forever.

De Leon shines in a role rife with internal conflict … the joy and fear of life on the sea, the lost opportunity and abandoned goals, resignation to the daily grind of feeding a wife and seven kids.  When every question about the state of things on The Boat is answered with a terse, “Fine”.  By the way, De Leon is in “fine” voice on the Scotiabank Stage, regaling the audience with a few old songs of the sea.

Mother, played by Stephanie MacDonald, embraces her time worn traditional role, holding the fort, maintaining a regular watch of the horizon for The Boat’s daily return.  As much as the family relies on father and The Boat to keep things “afloat”, mother is the captain at home, motivating the troops.

The staging is sparse but effective, featuring several moving arches of barnacled wood lashed together as boats to a wharf.  These arches take on many roles throughout the play.  And at times are moved about as gear on The Boat itself, giving a visceral sense of being on the water.  Exceptional use of lighting and sound, moving in concert with the actors, illustrate the power of the ocean.

Living in the city, we need reminding of our Maritime roots, where the sea gives forth life - and takes it away.  The Boat makes that emotional connection.  Playing now through April 9th on the Scotiabank Stage at Neptune Theatre.