Theatre New Brunswick has begun ‘The Boat,’ based on the classic Alistair MacLeod short story of the same name and adapted for the stage by Fredericton playwright Ryan Griffith. Their final professional production for the season, excluding the season’s two student-run productions, ‘The Boat’ is a uniquely Maritime experience. From the sea shanties and the characters’ mannerisms to the overarching narrative of family and tradition versus personal desire, every aspect of the play draws from its Atlantic roots.
Telling the story of a boy from Port Hawkesbury (Ron Kennell) struggling to find his place in both the world and his family, ‘The Boat’ centres around the struggle against tradition within a dysfunctional household. The play itself is presented primarily through the eyes of the son, whose narration is punctuated by scenes with the rest of the cast. With the boy’s old-fashioned mother (Stephanie MacDonald) and uncle (Graham Percy) pushing for him to make a living on the family’s fishing boat and his father (Jon de Leon) trying desperately to encourage his children to become their own people, the titular boat itself becomes both a central point of struggle within the family and a symbol of what they’re fighting for. As each member tries to steer the others in the direction they think is best, disagreements rise, tensions flair, and sacrifices are made.
The most striking performance comes from Kennell, who spends the bulk of the play as both narrator and protagonist, giving a number of impassioned, introspective monologues, the pain clear in his voice. Jon de Leon provides a solid performance as well, embodying both the gruff seaman and the caring father. The most memorable part of de Leon’s performance would be the old sailing songs, his voice full of spirit, giving the play an even more authentic Maritime feel, though the actor himself hails from Toronto.
As with TNB’s prior productions, ‘The Boat’ makes excellent use of the Open Space Theatre. The cast begins spaced out, separately framed beneath a minimalistic set of four sea-worn wooden arches which are frequently rearranged throughout the play, highlighting the emotional distance or closeness between the characters as they develop and grow. The theatre space also allows for the play’s chaotic, jarring depictions of life at sea, made possible through lighting and sound effects as well as the entirely modular set.
A touching and emotional journey, ‘The Boat’ is not a play to miss. From its proud declarations of Atlantic heritage to the compelling drama of the all-to-familiar dilemma of leaving home, every aspect of ‘The Boat’ seems a perfect fit to endear itself to Maritime audiences. However, with compelling performances, thought-provoking monologues, and relatable characters, it’s well worth seeing regardless of whether or not you’re actually from around here.
‘The Boat’ will be showing in Fredericton at the Open Space Theatre at 55 Whiting Road from March 9th-18rd, after which it will have a run in Halifax’s Neptune Theatre from March 21st to April 9th, the first time a TNB production has been hosted there in decades. This will be followed by a tour of select New Brunswick venues from April 11th to 14th.