This review contains spoilers. You have been warned.
In most cases, when a play starts with a scream in the dark, you can expect a thriller or a mystery to follow – the scream lets us know that there’s going to be a gun or crossed swords over the mantle when the lights come up. It’s a nice reversal, then, when the lights go up on Having Hope At Home to reveal a pregnant woman in the throes of laour leaning over a rustic but meticulously set dinner table. We know a few things right away: there’s going to be more screaming in the first act, a birth in the last act, and a very awkward meal in between.
And to a large extent, that’s pretty much how Having Hope At Home plays out. There are no surprises in this story, but there are plenty of jokes, a sprinkling of heartfelt moments and an ending that will have you laughing while you dab at the corners of your eyes.
Directed by the Globe Theatre’s own Andrew North, Hope is the story of Carolyn Bingham (Laura Condlin), a young woman dealing with, oh, all sorts of problems: a broken toilet; a grumpy arthritic grandfather (Jerry Franken) who lobs insults at her French-Canadian boyfriend Michel (Nicolas van Burek) from the comfort of his favourite chair; a pair of overbearingly Ontarian parents (Richard Binsley and Pamela Haig Bartley) coming for dinner; and a baby set to arrive very, very soon. If Carolyn can get the food on the table, prevent long-simmering arguments from breaking out between various family members, and not have the baby between the turkey and the rhubarb pie, then the evening will be a success.
Did I mention that they’re planning a home birth and the midwife (Dawn Shaw) is coming over? And Carolyn’s father is a renowned and very uptight obstetrician?
If you’re expecting a sedate and sombre evening from this kind of set-up, then you’ve wandered into the wrong play. Intent on exhausting every last particle of entertainment from the script, North cranks up the farcical elements as far as they can go. Characters stomp instead of run, bark instead of grumble, and generally play to the rafters. Fortunately, North also knows when to dial down the action and let the intimacies between the characters develop. Despite some bumps in the script (there’s a sequence involving a wedding dress that strains all credulity), the cast and crew keep the tone light and the characters engaging.
Although the cast deliver uniformly good performances, it’s no secret that Jerry Franken steals the show as Russell Bingham, the work-obsessed grandfather whose truculence and bigotry masks a decent man. There’s a genuine sadness buried in there, but Franken mines the character for laughs, presenting a cranky old farmer widely recognizable to Saskatchewan audiences.
Having Hope At Home is suitable for a wide family audience, so don’t be afraid to take your children and your parents along. Hope runs on the Globe main stage until February 13th. To purchase tickets online for any of the plays in their 2011 season, visit their web site.