Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

Photo: Allan Mackey

Photo: Allan Mackey

The Novel House

By Jayson McDonald

Black Sheep Theatre at The Gladstone

Why bother?

That’s the question about Black Sheep Theatre’s misguided production of Ontario playwright Jayson McDonald’s tiresome family drama Novel House.

The plot – contrived and coy when it’s not simply inert – finds the jaunty writer James Novel (William Beddoe) working on – wait for it – the great Canadian novel in his rambling, leaky and apparently ghost-riddled home called Novel House. For reason that eluded at least me, Novel is writing his masterwork with a quill pen even though the setting is present-day.

We the audience are apparently reading the novel as he writes it. This allows him to address us directly from time to time before stepping back into the action of his novel which, if it tells the story of his and his family’s collective life, may not be a novel at all. Assuming you care to plumb things to that depth.

James’s wife Mary (Alexis Scott) is an annoyingly fidgety scatterbrain, but one who loves her husband and adult daughter Rebecca (Whitney Richards, who brings a welcome freshness to this dank show). There’s a cutely weird grandfather (James’ father Geoffrey, played by Jeffrey Lefebvre) who talks to a lamp and hangs out in a wardrobe (one keeps hoping he’ll be whisked away permanently to Narnia). Also on the scene: Thomas Winding, an earnest, whiny kind of guy played by the able Tony Adams, who marries Rebecca, almost fathers a child and does other stuff.

Life in Novel House has smooth and rough stretches, most of them predictable. The characters, thanks to both the script and the frequently pedestrian acting, have little to no inner life, only rarely connect (there is a nicely nuanced reconciliation scene between Rebecca and Thomas), and, like the play, haven’t a clue what they want to be.

Dave Dawson, founder of Black Sheep Theatre, directs the show. He’s deservedly won awards for earlier productions including Batboy: The Musical, so it’s a puzzle as to why he selected this play and didn’t clamp down on Lefebvre’s continual shouting, a wooden performance by Scott, and Beddoe’s skin-deep portrayal of James Novel.

Bottom line: this house should be abandoned.

Novel House continues to Oct. 29.

Director……………………………………………Dave Dawson

Set…………………………………………………Mark MacDonald

Costumes………………………………………….Julia Beuneman

Lighting……………………………………………Carolyn Barnes

Cast

Thomas Winding…………………………………..Tony Adams

James Novel………………………………………..William Beddoe

Geoffrey Novel…………………………………….Jeffrey Lefebvre

Rebecca Novel……………………………………..Whitney Richards

Mary Novel…………………………………………Alexis Scott