Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

Norm Foster is a playwright with a modest intent — to write comedies about “ordinary people just trying to get by in life.”

That prescription can no doubt be applied to The Melville Boys — his much-produced piece about two brothers, wildly disparate in personality, who seek to re-bond by spending a weekend at the family’s  lakeside cabin.

Unfortunately Kanata Theatre’s new production merely shows how fragile the play really is and how easily it can collapse in performance.

Foster’s scripts do have their moments of poignancy amidst the frivolity, and they do seek to take their main characters through some sort of personal arc. But The Melville Boys seems an especially perilous venture. On the one hand, you have Owen (James Renaud) — the womanizing hotshot, ready to bed whichever available girl shows up on the doorstep while blithely ignoring the fact that he has a wedding coming up. On the other hand, you have his introvert brother Lee (Solly Balbaa), whose reaction to Owen’s shenanigans fluctuate between embarrassment and exasperation.

The appearance of two neighbouring sisters holds the promise of a naughty, boozy weekend. Mary (Stephanie Beaulne), who owns the village store, is the more laid back — and worried about life in general. Loretta (Shaun MacEachern) is a bouncy, empty-headed hedonist who sees Owen as a potential one-night stand with no strings attached.

But playwright Foster has more on his mind than just a sex romp. He wants to deliver a sex romp leavened by serious intentions. He’s made Lee terminally ill with a short time to live and he’s drawn Owen as a carefree guy unable to come to terms with his brother’s prognosis — but of course this is the kind of play that will force him to accept it before the evening ends

This is the springboard for a comedy? A more assured production than the one at Kanata might find some fusion for such warring elements, but the chief impression opening night was of the performers visibly labouring to try to make it work.

That being said, James Renaud brings a certain jaunty mindlessness to the pathetically macho character of Owen. And Shauna MacEachern’s Loretta persuasively occupies her own world of ditzy self absorption. But under Steve Truelove’s somewhat tentative direction, the play doesn’t really hold together. On opening night it was astonishing how many potentially funny lines fell flat. As for that big emotional moment of truth between the brothers, it was dramatically slack.

A further note of unreality was provided by Jim Clarke’s set design. For a seasonal cabin, it seemed unbelievably pristine

The Melville Boys continues at Kanata Theatre to April 8.

Director: Steve Truelove

Assistant director: Alain Chamsi

Set: Jim Clarke

Lighting: Torin Zaugg

Sound: Justin Ladelpha

Costumes: Rachel Worton

CAST:  James Renaud: Owen Melville

Solly Balbaa: Lee Melville

Stephanie Beaulne: Mary

Shauna MacEachern: Loretta