Norm Foster’s Come Down From Up River opens at UCP

Marshall Button and Cassandra Guthrie from Come Down from Up River, opening September 8 at the Upper Canada Playhouse. – (Contributed/Karl Piwowarski photo)

MORRISBURG – “There is just something wonderful about this play,” said actor/playwright/director Jesse Collins, who is directing Norm Foster’s ‘Come Down From Up River,’ opening at Upper Canada Playhouse on September 8, running until October 2. “We see characters different from us on the stage: yet we will still discover, through the play, the common denominators shared by us all.”

Playhouse artistic director Donnie Bowes is in complete agreement. He is delighted to offer this wonderful Foster play as the last show of the theatre’s summer season. “A hallmark of Foster’s work is his ability to evoke laughter while pulling on the heart-strings at the same time, and this play represents some of his best recent work. And as every Foster audience knows, the play finds much humour in the lives of its characters as they navigate past grievances and look to the future,” Bowes said. “While Foster has made his home in New Brunswick for years, and the Maritimes happen to be the setting of this play, the themes are universal, and the comedy as entertaining as audiences have come to expect from Canada’s most produced playwright.”

The story centres on a logger, Shaver Bennet, who has lived all his life on the Miramichi River in northern New Brunswick.
However, he has been forced out of his solitude by a medical appointment, and now must stay with his niece, Bonnie Doyle, who he hasn’t seen in 23 years. Bonnie has become a successful urban lawyer. However, she had to build a life on her own after her uncle, Shaver, her only relative, sent her, as a child, to live with friends in the city, instead of taking her in himself following her mother’s death. Certainly, there are some old shadows hanging between these two. And Shaver will have to face quite a different world from that of the solitary backwoods after he arrives in the city and lands at the home Bonnie shares with her wife, Liv.

“My first thought on reading Norm’s script was how very clever he has been with our perceptions about how people will behave in any situation,” said director Jesse Collins. “He looks at the changes people go through in unexpected situations – and also the changes they don’t go through. This is really a play about family, about the families we create when we leave home versus the families we’ve left behind. There are simply no foregone conclusions in the play. The story and the characters are never going to be quite what we might be expecting. Foster’s ‘Come Down From Up River’ delightfully explores the nature of diversity. All families are different, and all families have their challenges.”

‘Come Down From Up River’ has a strongly cohesive, power house of a cast.

Marshall Button stars as Shaver Bennet, with outstanding fellow actors, Alison MacKay and Cassandra Guthrie, as Bonnie and Liv.

Marshall, very well known to area audiences as the beloved ‘Lucien’, actually hales from New Brunswick. Jesse Collins laughed that while he and Marshall have been friends for years, “this is actually my first time working with him as an actor, our first time together in the rehearsal hall. Marshall is thoroughly steeped in New Brunswick lore,” Collins explained, “a quality that really serves this play. He is playing a complex character in Shaver, one perhaps different from other characters audiences have seen. Yet he is incredibly adept at inhabiting Shaver. Marshall has gone to the limits on this role: he has created a real range to the character.”

Alison MacKay has appeared in other Playhouse productions including ‘Plaza Suite’ and ‘Steel Magnolias.’ “She is an actor of great depth and understanding,” Collins said. “She is simply a dynamite performer and so responsive in the role of Bonnie.”

Newcomer Cassandra Guthrie, as Liv, is an “exiting Toronto actor,” Collins said. “ She is fantastic, easily standing out during auditions for the role, and a fresh new face. She is a wonderful fit for the company as we explore thoughtful themes. Audiences will love her.”

The production at Upper Canada Playhouse is transferring from Collins’ Orillia Opera House, where “audiences are eating this play up,” said Collins. “I think Playhouse audiences are also going to love the actors, and love this show.”

And, as Playhouse artistic director Donnie Bowes put it: “Audiences are in for a real treat in Norm Foster’s ‘Come Down From Up River.’ This is a terrific show.”

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