Country-boy wannabe goes it alone at GCTC

By Karen Prentice

Tears stream down the faces of audience members during opening night of the play “Wingfield on Ice.” Most from uncontrollable laughter, but some due to touching emotional scenes about birth and death.

Some audience members hold their breath during a scene where the main character begins to cry. “Those are real tears,” someone whispers through the hush that’s present in the theatre.

“Wingfield on Ice” is playing at the Great Canadian Theatre Company (GCTC) and runs through Nov. 30. It is the fifth installment of a series of comedies, written by Dan Needles which began in 1985.

The main character of the one man play is Walt Wingfield — a stockbroker-turned-farmer.

The series examines a city person’s comedic experiences with farming.

In this most recent installment, Rod Beattie (Needles’ friend from childhood) performs an array of roles in the one-man show. He has won many awards, including the 1991-92 Dora Mavor Moore Award for his performance in the first three Wingfield plays.

Beattie says this play deals with an ice storm literally and figuratively.

“It’s about the ice that freezes people’s hearts and the stuff that keeps your feet sliding,” says Beattie.

Beattie first came to the GCTC in 1985 with the first installment of the Wingfield series, “Letter from Wingfield Farm.”

“The GCTC took a chance on us when we were just starting up and it wasn’t financially stable, so I feel a certain connection to this place,” says Beattie.

The GCTC staged three of the subsequent four Wingfield plays since 1985. According to Lorne Pardy, the artistic director of the GCTC, these received great acclaim from audience members

“I think the farming in the play is a lot like the farming around this area,” says Beattie.

Other audience members seem to agree.

Claire Graves came from a small farming community outside Ottawa to see Beattie in action.

“He picks up on not just the characteristics of the people, but exactly how people in my area talk and act, everything about the farm,” says Graves, “He’s unbelievable.”

“Even if you’re living in the city you can relate because this is a small city that has neighborhood atmosphere, and you know what he’s talking about,” says Joan Lesiak, a resident of Ottawa.

In this one-man show Beattie plays everyone from a stuttering, hilarious young farmer with a twitch, to an extremely old and crippled female piano teacher — switching between characters sometimes mid-sentence.

“You have to remind yourself that there’s only one man up there. You swear there’s a whole cast of characters on stage,” says Graves.

Beattie says he gets his inspiration from personal experiences.

He grew up in the city, (along with his younger brother and the director of the Wingfield series Douglas Beattie) but they made frequent trips to the farm in the summers.

“My best friend, Dan Needles lived half his life in the city and half in the country. When he moved to the country we used to spend the summers there,” says Beattie. “Dan’s mom thought we should be useful so we spent the summers there doing hay, farm chores, we milked cows.”

Pardy wanted to get “Wingfield on Ice” because of its history in Canada and popularity with Ottawa audiences.

“Everyone loves to laugh and likes a good story and that’s what Beattie does so well,” said Pardy he can tell stories that make for fantastic theatre.”

Beattie says these storiedscome easily to Needles and his brother. “We’ve always been fortunate enough never to have to write a play,” says Beattie, “We just wait for an idea to come, and it writes itself.”