Shelter From the Storm tells a lean, satisfying story
By Peter Boychuk. Directed by Katrina Dunn. A Touchstone Theatre production, in association with Playwrights Theatre Centre and the Firehall Arts Centre. At the Firehall Arts Centre on Friday, June 1. Continues until June 9
Both the play and production are uneven, but there’s no denying the fresh talent on offer in Shelter From the Storm.
In Peter Boychuk’s new script, a U.S. marine named Scott heads to Canada rather than returning to Iraq for a second tour of duty. Scott finds refuge with Rick, a draft dodger whom Canada welcomed—relatively speaking—in the ’60s. But times have changed. Even Rick’s daughter Caitlin isn’t sure she wants to help Scott out. And Caitlin, who is a surfing champion in Tofino, where the play is set, is on-edge; she’s recovering from the shock of her mother’s unexpected death two months earlier.
Boychuk’s script is refreshingly ambitious in its willingness to deal with the waning generosity of Canadian society. The playwright commits himself to high emotional stakes, and he creates pleasing subtlety within charged relationships; a long Act 1 scene in which the hostile Caitlin and the defensive Scott start to open up to one another is particularly satisfying. And Boychuk doesn’t waste words.
That said, some elements of the writing are forced. The writer arbitrarily dials up the tension with Caitlin’s undermotivated aggression toward Scott, for instance. And in a melodramatic moment, Scott goes berserk and hollers marine chants about bleeding bodies. In this production, actor Kyle Jespersen makes the passage work, but that’s a lot to ask of any actor.
Still, the bottom line is that Boychuk, who is enjoying the first professional production of one of his plays here, tells a lean, satisfying story.
The two younger actors in this three-hander also impress. Jespersen brings containment and authenticity—as well as comic chops—to his portrait of Scott. Just wait till you see Scott struggling to get into his wet suit. And Lindsay Winch makes an admirable professional debut as Caitlin. I’ve appreciated the student work of this recent Studio 58 grad, but I’ve never seen such a responsive, unpremeditated performance from her. Grief passes through Winch’s Caitlin like weather passing over a landscape. Winch is learning how to succeed by giving up control—and that’s the mark of a very good actor.
Unfortunately, Peter Hall, who plays Caitlin’s dad, Rick, was awful on opening night, bellowing as if he were performing Lear on an actual heath. And Hall was the opposite of responsive. Fortunately, he settled down considerably in Act 2.
Pam Johnson’s weathered beach-house set is so appealing that I wanted to move in.
Touchstone Theatre’s production of Shelter From the Storm left me feeling celebratory about the young artists in our midst. And I’m glad that there’s still enough arts funding left to allow Boychuk to use the compassionate medium of theatre to address the loss of compassion in Canadian culture.