Small town Albertan mystique has never been in short supply in productions based out of Edmonton. Wistful, romantic windows into simpler times can be an easy gateway for charm, yet when it comes to more nefarious occurrences The Blue Hour delivers a payoff that may be easy to anticipate but doesn’t take away from the impact of its punch.
The new production written by playwright Michele Van Hehir touches on the simplicity of early 20th Century country life, setting up a cast of characters belonging to a small Southern-Alberta township, who all act and interact with one another in the ways one would expect: with a fine ‘how do ya do’ and a smile. Yet, as the story evolves a grim undertone, the saccharine smiles begin to fade and layers of doubt and grim deeds begin to emerge.
Right out of the gate, the narrative informs the audience that something bleak has occurred in this town, as one of our characters faces the gallows the minute the stage lights flicker on. What begins to take shape after the fact is a breadcrumb trail of how and why, as the story skips back far before any misdeeds transpire.
The quaint bedrock of the narrative structure is the interconnected stories of three families.
Starting with the de facto mayor Hank (Robert Benz) and his pious wife Margaret (Elinor Holt). Then there’s the iron-willed Christina (Nicole St. Martin) and her children Bonnie (Helen Belay) and Jonah (Issac Andrew) along with Pastor John (Ian Leung) and his wife Hannah (Bonnie Ings).
Every member of the cast delivers the nuance of country life impeccably, but the powerhouses of the production are without a doubt Belay’s Bonnie and Benz’s Hank. Benz captures the nature of a humble patriarch and Belay’s small-town girl who dreams of something more arc is driven home immensely by her portrayals of raw fear and uncertainty as mortifying events begin to engulf her.
This brings us to the core of this story—humble life derailed by deplorable actions. These actions won’t be given away for the sake of suspense but how these characters react to them are all emboldened by the collective crisis of faith they all experience simultaneously within themselves, God and their neighbours.
This tale isn’t without its faults however: the how and why can be seen a mile away halfway throughout the first act, evaporating the mystery that The Blue Hour displays in its opening seconds. Pacing hinders the first act as well, with what is a great attempt at the narrative taking its time so we can get to know its characters, vastly overstaying its welcome.
This is made up for in the second act, but the crawl out of the gate hurts a story that is already limited by its predictability.
What The Blue Hour does well is trick the audience into feeling quaint, despite the fact that it begins with handcuffs. This kind of immersion is hard to pull off, and it’s sustained by its cast and ‘Sweetwater’ script.
It’s not a country drive that has a happy ending, but might be one worth taking regardless.
Review: The Blue Hour
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