by Rob Perry
of The Aylmer Express
You have to feel for Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, the ageing siblings and Prince Edward Island farmers portrayed in the play Anne of Green Gables at East Elgin Secondary School this week.
When they mistakenly get Anne Shirley instead of a boy from an orphanage to help out around the farm, they really wind up with a handful.
Abigail Reid brings Anne to life, a character so full of energy and melodrama that, while delightfully entertaining over a two-and-a-half hour play, she would have been have been exhausting to actually live with around the clock.
The play, a mix of drama and comedy, is a courageous choice by teacher-directors Narda Robbins and Adam McBurney.
While they share a childhood love of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, EESS usually puts on musicals for its full-length plays.
Drama and comedy without music are customarily reserved for one-act entries into drama festivals.
In a musical, the sheer energy of song and dance on stage allows more leeway for small errors. If some of the singers are somewhat off-key, it just adds to the charm.
But that doesn’t extend to non-musicals. There, performances have to be on the mark, with less room for even tiny mistakes.
But the two teachers assembled a cast that was up to the job.
Ms. Reid puts on a tour de force as the orphan Anne, tall and gangly, full to overflowing of imagination and topped by bright red hair.
She soars to the heights of ecstasy and plunges to “the depths of despair” without missing a beat.
Her character is prone to error, but Ms. Reid isn’t.
Courtney Bennett as Marilla Cuthbert and Nic Cartwright as her brother Matthew have an equally daunting job, transforming their youthful selves into ageing farmers.
They bring that off without the clichés of a palsy shake or a reedy voice, instead relying on measured movement and a certain tone of voice to convey maturity.
Other standouts include the effervescent Cassy Dyck as privileged Diana Barry, Anne’s “bosom” best pal, Kaitlin Jarvi as Rachel Lynde, a know-it-all neighbour with a voice like the Wicked Witch of the West, Nathan Froese as hot-tempered teacher Nathan Froese and young Moira Haldenby as Diana’s much younger sister Minnie May.
And Ben Johnson is the towering Gilbert Blythe, Anne’s arch-enemy from the first day of school and her only competitor in scholastic achievement.
To the credit of the student actors, they could all be heard from the back of the school’s cafetorium, despite its notoriously poor acoustics.
The play tells the story from Anne’s arrival in Avonlea, the home of the Cuthberts, through to her graduation from Queens Academy and her entry into full adulthood with the loss of a loved one.
The play, which opened Wednesday, May 7, continues with shows at 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, as well as a matinee Friday at 12:30 p.m.
Tickets are available at the door.