Note: This review is based on a preview performance.
Some Blow Flutes is the latest creation of HomeFirst Theatre’s artistic director, Mary Vingoe. It follows the struggle of teenage Leah Frangoulis (Ailsa Galbreath) caring for Elena (Mary-Colin Chisholm), her elderly grandmother whose dementia is progressing to an unmanageable state. Meanwhile, her denial-ridden grandfather Costas (Hugh Thompson), encounters Sandra (Francine Deschepper), a client of his shoe shop who is a recovering alcoholic and is estranged from her daughter Marijke (Gina Thornhill), Leah’s best friend.
The Bus Stop Theatre is transformed into a richly detailled setting—it is simultaneously Costas’ shop, the home of the Frangoulis family and remains versatile enough to create other spaces as needed. It, along with the costumes, are the work of Sue LePage. There's a sincerity and realism in the clothes—it can be hard to make costumes for such a broad age range of characters without turning them into caricatures of their demographic groups.
Chisholm commands all attention as the deteriorating Elena. This could have easily been a one-person show starring her and it would’ve been potentially more interesting. She is in silence for a large portion of her time on stage. She is constantly described as having the voice of a bird, and when she finally speaks, she breathes life into the production: She creates with her voice—and incredible physical performance, a credit to Chisholm and movement coach Don Reider—an engrossing emotional connection to the audience that the other characters simply do not. She is the harbinger of the dreaded in-show title drop, a narrative action so cheesy it’s actually kind of amazing it only feels a bit tacked on.
This show is simultaneously over- and under-produced. The most interesting parts are moments of extreme physical movement (watch out for the juicy bit with the bed frame), but they vanish before they can really make a lasting impact. Similarly, the initially impactful set becomes a distracting hinderance as 90 percent of the objects on stage exist to take up space and aren’t actually utilized. It feels like this was an interesting idea that was so padded it didn’t know what it was anymore. At times the audience is spoon-fed information in a way that defies ordinary human communication. The teenage characters act so absurdly it's unbelievable at times—a testament to how simultaneously childish and mature teenagers can be, maybe—and a dissonance that broke my suspension of disbelief.
Hopefully projection designer Nick Bottomley performed his job as a volunteer because it would have been a shame to spend money on those results. The entirety of the design consisted of some rippling water effects and a single instant of MS-paint quality birds flying across a backdrop for less than three seconds. It contributed nothing to the narrative, nothing that couldn’t have been created by lighting alone.
Ultimately, Some Blow Flutes is visually engaging, with some stand-out performances, particularly from Chisholm and Thompson. “Theatre people” will undoubtedly enjoy a production featuring some of Halifax's finest, but it might not be the show to bring a newcomer to. This play is clearly a product of love, and its Halloween setting makes it a seasonal treat. Is it worth $25? I'd rather catch a couple of movies for that price. Notably, this show features an ASL-interpreted performance (Oct 27, 2pm), something most shows in Halifax are lacking.