Chronicling a Love Affair with Canadian Theatre

the golden anniversaries

The Golden Anniversaries At The Blyth Festival

Following up on Saving Graceland, the Blyth Festival has another hit on its hands with Mark Crawford’s dark – very dark – comedy, The Golden Anniversaries.

Crawford seems to go from strength to strength. The Golden Anniversaries may be his most accomplished work yet, blending as it does his trademark observational comedy with soul wrenching tragedy.

Glen and Sandy Golden (Jim Mezon and Janet-Laine Green) are celebrating their fiftieth anniversary at their cottage. Well, Glen is trying to celebrate it, with balloons and Sandy’s favorite wine. Sandy arrives, having been led to believe from Glen’s texts that he is in physical distress only to reveal that, for her at least, the marriage has been over for some weeks.

Glen wants to talk things out and salvage the relationship. Sandy just wants out. She suggests they reach a simple settlement; she gets the house, and Glen gets the cottage, where he has been living for a while now, subsisting on weiners and beans. Sandy sweetens the deal by saying she won’t ask for child support. (The kids are in their forties.)

The Golden Anniversaries relates the arc of what becomes a two-day conversation, as differing recollections are tested in a series of flashbacks. The jumping back and forward in time is done simply and artfully, thanks to subtle lighting cues courtesy of Nic Vincent and a special effect called great acting.

What could have been a facile vehicle for a series of comedic set pieces becomes much more thanks to Crawford’s acute psychological insights into his characters and his mastery of the playwright’s craft.

Just when we think we know these two people and their personal soap opera inside out, Crawford throws a curve ball with an offhand cruelty that reminded me of Irish playwrights like Friel, Kilroy, and Keane. It completely rearranges our perception of what we have been seeing and it took my breath away.

The Golden Anniversaries is also graced with stellar performances by two of Canada’s finest senior actors, and the sensitive direction by Miles Potter, another Canadian theatre legend. If I am interpreting the joint programme notes by Crawford and Potter correctly, Potter played a major dramaturgical role in shaping the text.

Mezon, who is making his Blyth Festival debut, is a 33-year veteran of the Shaw Festival. Why Shaw let him get away and why Stratford didn’t scoop him up is an enduring source of mystery to me. But Shaw’s shortsightedness hasn’t stopped him from continuing to turn in impressive work as both actor and director in material as varied as Lear and Norm Foster’s Outlaw.

Green is less familiar to me, although I admired her work in On Golden Pond at Drayton a few years back. Underlining the fact that we are in the presence of Canadian theatre royalty was my discovery that Green is the mother of Tyrone Savage, currently one of the best things in the Stratford Festival’s Cymbeline.

Set designer Steve Lucas has delivered a simple but picture perfect rendering of a modest retreat in cottage country that moves the action to the very lip of the stage. Amanda Wong’s costumes, Vincent’s atmospheric lighting, and Lyon Smith’s understated sound design add up to make this a perfect production.

Like On Golden Pond, The Golden Anniversaries is one of those relatively rare plays that offers actors of advancing years meaty roles in which they can shine. I’m predicting a rich afterlife for the play. I can already see Paul Gross and Martha Burns in the film adaptation.

The Golden Anniversaries continues at the Blyth Festival through August 4, 2024. For more information and to purchase tickets visit the Blyth Festival website.

[image: Autumn Ducharme, courtesy the Blyth Festival]

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