Buying the Farm: Sensational production at Upper Canada Playhouse

Actors from the new Upper Canada Playhouse production ‘Buying the Farm’ finish final rehearsals in this photo by Leader photographer Wendy Gibb.

MORRISBURG – ‘Buying the Farm,’ the new Hoffman & Sparks show currently on stage at Upper Canada Playhouse until August 13, is the kind of show you just want to wrap your arms around and hug.

The plot is not complicated: a young realtor has come into the country side to convince an elderly farmer that he should sell the family farm to an upscale, suburban developer, since that’s “where the money is” and “all your neighbours have already sold us their land.” However, the realtor must also deal with the farmer’s great niece, who is adamant that the farm will never be for sale. ‘Buying the Farm’ covers just two days in the lives of these three people. But they are two funny, heart-warming days, with an unexpected twist or two.

Audiences quickly come to care what will happen to Magnus, Esme and Brad in director Donnie Bowes’ delightful production. Since the Playhouse itself is located in a rural area, many in the audience will have a realistic understanding of the pressures that face small family farms in these days of urban sprawl and upwardly mobile suburbs. “Acres and acres of good farmland paved over,” as Esme puts it.

Far too many city folk in the last few years seem to be under the impression that food just miraculously appears on super market shelves. They don’t seem to understand the work that farmers like Magnus must do to keep that food in the stores. Farming is a 24/7 occupation: crops and cattle don’t take days off. And ‘Buying the Farm’ rings true in many, many ways.

Yet this is also a very comic, hugely entertaining play, which takes place on a wonderful, realistic set created by John Thompson.

To a large extent ‘Buying the Farm’ is such fun because we really learn to care for the characters: we have a chance to get to know them. Actors Brian Young, Adam Sanders and Erin Eldershaw bring them to life.

Brian Young’s Magnus has five generations of farming wisdom in his soul, albeit mixed with a slight touch of crustiness. It has not been easy to keep his small farm in operation: the chores never stop; something is always in need of fixing; the bank loans keep looming. Yet Magnus can still see the joys in life. “A man needs a purpose. A reason to get up in the morning.” Age and experience mean that he also understands Esme and Brad – better in some ways than they understand themselves. “That girl’s smart as a whip…she’s got a good head on her shoulders.” He loves that his Esme is feisty but he also worries about her future. And, again, through the wisdom of years, he is also quietly able to to connect with Brad, a young man trying to be a ‘hot shot’ realtor, who persists in going on about how it might be time for elderly Magnus to retire and put his feet up. “Just because something’s the truth,” Magnus gently tells him, “you don’t have to say it.” Then he invites Brad to dinner with very unexpected results.

Esme, Erin Eldershaw, is utterly committed to her efforts to drive off these “citiates” after her farm. Her style is blunt, and abrupt. Brad, with his TV style sales pitch, is immediately and contemptuously dismissed as “Latte.” At times, impatiently, she has been known to label Uncle Magnus as a “stubborn old man.” But Esme cares, really cares what happens to her uncle and the family farm. And, as the audience discovers, there also happens to be a sense of humour lurking beneath that bluntness: why sometimes, it appears, a woman may even have to change her mind about a few things!

Brad, Adam Sanders, painfully awkward in his expensive ‘store-bought farm clothes,’ with his well-rehearsed real estate spiel, is trying hard to live up to his developer father’s expectations. His problem with being sent to deal with this whole farm business may rest in the fact that he is not good with blood, insects, dirty shirts, grime and “all that yucky stuff.” However, as the play quickly makes clear, Brad is not a villain. He has a heart, he truly means well: Magnus, and perhaps even Esme, come to see this. “I thought you were someone else…and you’re not.”

In the end, ‘Buying the Farm’ suggests that, perhaps, if we’re lucky, there may be a little bit of farmer in all our souls. This is a warm, often very, very funny show that brings three memorable people together, with all their issues and aspirations. And, as Magnus, sitting on his front porch, thoughtfully points out to Esme and Brad, when it comes to fate, “Well, if you hold your mouth just right, all the pieces come together.”

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