The North Frontenac Little Theatre Production of The Red Plaid Shirt, by Ontario based playwright Greg Wilmott, was a solid production of a play that explores a topical subject: how male baby boomers handle retirement and how that affects their relationships with their wives.
The play centres around two couples, but the central role is that of Marty, who was played convincingly by Greg Morris. Marty is a newly retired English teacher who does not know what to do with himself, and his sense of ennui provides the impetus for the comedic plot twists that propel the action. Of the other three characters, Marty’s wife Deb, played in a suitably befuddled manner by Sharon Rodden, has the most to do. Her transition to retirement seems to have been seamless, but reacting to Marty’s new neediness throws her off balance, forcing her to ultimately adjust her own lifestyle somewhat.
Marty’s friend, Fred (the always comical John Stephens) is an already retired accountant, whose transition to retirement enabled him to pursue his own peculiar hobby, hypochondria. Meanwhile, Fred’s wife, Gladys, played with a mixture of frustration and irony by Kelly Meckling, would like to more with her life than listen to Fred’s ever-expanding list of ailments. Gladys also serves as a sympathetic ear to Deb. Fred does his best, whenever he takes a break from his obsession with the possibility that he could perish at any moment from some unusual ailment, to help Marty get through his state of unease.
Marty thinks the solution to his funk is to buy a motorcycle and hit the open road. Deb is fearful that Marty is being reckless and will get hurt, since he has never been on a motorcycle, and also feels left behind. She encourages Marty to try wood working with Fred before doing anything foolish. Gladys would like to see Fred be more active, and would also like him to focus on more than his own health. Wood shop doesn’t go that well since both Fred and Marty lack skill and interest, but when Fred comes up with a project that really speaks to home: making a coffin, the plot of the play is able to spin out from there.
In the end, the characters all change in a way that is consistent with their own goals, and the two couples are set off on a new path. The production itself played up the humour in The Red Plaid Shirt, and the ensemble acting made the relationships between the two couples ring true.
Although the play has a decided urban, privileged class bias (most retired or semi-retired men in Frontenac County don’t need to run out and buy a red plaid shirt and many have money worries as well as concerns over what to do with themselves when they wake up in the morning) it still touches on some realities that resonated well with the audience on Saturday night (December 1) when I saw it.
The play marked a return to directing from long time Little Theatre mainstay Pam Giroux, who last directed a production about 30 years ago, but has been on stage dozens of times since then in a variety of roles and is also serving as NFLT President this year. Under her direction, the versatile set by Carol Pepper and Steve Scantlebury allowed for relatively quick transitions between scenes, with simple props creating a café, a woodshop and even a life drawing class, while the central location of the action, Marty and Deb’s Living Room, remained in place.
The Little Theatre’s spring 2019 production will be the new musical, The Boy Wonder, which is set in New York in the 1930’s. It was written by long time NFLT lighting director Jeff Siamon, with songs from the great American songbook, by the likes of Irving Berlin and George Gershwin. The casting call for that production will come in the new year.
Members of NFLT and interested community members are invited to a Public meeting held at the United Church Hall in Sharbot Lake on Tuesday December 11 at 7 p.m. We will be brainstorming ideas for our celebration year starting January 2019.