This week, the Metro Theatre opens its new season with Hilda’s Yard, a Canadian play by Norm Foster. Producing this play is a decision made to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Canada’s independence. If you’re expecting a super “Canadian” play with polite characters and a quaint Prairie setting, you’ll be surprised. This is a vibrant comedy about a dysfunctional family filled with much more verbal grit than you would imagine could come from one of the most polite countries on Earth.
It’s 1956. Hilda Fluck (Katherine Morris) and her husband Sam (Richard Guenther) have finally expelled both of their thirty-year-old children from the house so that the kids can lead fulfilling, independent lives. They dream of quiet evenings snuggled on the couch watching their new TV until their plans are skewed by the sudden arrival of their older son Gary (Mark MacDonald). Unemployed Gary is on the run after failing to repay a loan to a moneylender named Beverly. Things get worse for Hilda when her daughter Janey (Tricia Gilliss) also comes back home, seeking refuge from a marriage she detests. Tension escalates as the family is joined by Gary’s new girlfriend, Bobbi (Julia Christina Ray), and Beverly the bookie (Dayleigh Nelson).
Morris is simultaneously explosive and inviting as Hilda. The audience is reeled into her monologous conversation with Mrs Lindstrom, the fourth-wall neighbour, to whom Hilda expresses how incompetent her family is; Gary still blames his unemployment on the war even after twelve years back home while Janey can’t get asked about her leaving her husband without getting into a fuss. Even Sam is naive and stubborn. Guenther capitalizes on this trait by childishly entreating Hilda, “We could expand on that kiss. We could go all the way.” All the characters are variously different and wacky. Beverly is a compassionate criminal. Bobbi is a base bimbo. All the actors play this up to great comic results except for Gary, who was played straight: a misinformed choice.
The greatest strength of the play is the honesty with which all the characters speak. The director, Kayt Roth, recognized this strength and capitalized on it. Hilda and Sam want their kids out of the house, and they have none of the blind parental love bullshit. Janey asks Beverly the bookie “Will you hurt Gary?” “Don’t worry, we’ll work something out,” says Beverly. Janey responds: “I wasn’t worried.” These kinds of unflowery lines permeate throughout the whole play. After both her children return home, Hilda’s hopes for a quiet life disappear. She talks to the neighbour Mrs Lindstrom: “A shot of whiskey? No thank you. I’d need the whole bottle.” This cynical attitude is expressed throughout the play for comic effect; family members roast each other and tell each other brutal truths. When Gary’s girlfriend Bobbi visits the house, it’s obvious that she’s out of Gary’s league. The elephant isn’t in the room for very long until Hilda points it out to everyone.
Hilda’s Yard is a play set in the ’50s that was written in 2012. That’s why the old-timey, theatrical language that builds up every joke is punctuated by a short and sweet (and honest) modern punchline. The joke that summed up the play the best was when Gary and Beverly can’t reach an agreement regarding the unpaid debt. Beverly says to Gary, “If you don’t mind, I’d like to talk to the boss of the house.” Sam impulsively walks over to Beverly, but Beverly walks past him and talks to Hilda. The play is about Hilda and her journey to try and fix her incompetent son, daughter and husband. She loves them not with a blind parental love where she thinks they’re all perfect, but she loves them in spite of them being imperfect.
Hilda’s Yard runs from September 16-October 7th, 2017.
Tickets: $25 Adult or $22 Senior/Student with a special 2 for $38 every Thursday | Location: Metro Theatre | Website