Festival Players test drive a new piece


Jonathan Zagrodnik

Staff Writer

The beginning of August marked the opening of The Festival Players of Prince Edward County’s Test Drive. Written by Dave Carley and directed by Festival Player’s Artistic Director Sarah Phillips, this piece tracks the life of Earl Hughes as he leaves to sell a Nash Metropolitan to a would-be-starlet. From there he drives through time, going through the Cold War, and through Woodstock, until he ends up in 2014, trying to reclaim his driver’s license.  Sarah Phillips explains, “The play is about a man of a certain era navigating his way through his life, through his relationships with his family, while progress marches on and this ‘stubborn, ordinary man’ has a hard time keeping up. He’s an everyman, a well-meaning and kind-hearted man and his trials and tribulations are ripe for comedy with a big heart. I think the most humorous era might be the late 60s, early 70s. That’s probably where there’s the most recognition and the most laughs — Woodstock and funny brownies and ‘kids these days’ comedy. That might be my favourite.”

The performance takes place at the Price Edward County’s celebrated winery Rosehall Run. “Rosehall is a wonderful venue,” says Phillips. “It’s such a treat to sit and look out over the vines, glass of wine in hand, a light breeze, birds and crickets singing into the evening. And we’re done before the mosquitos descend! This year PICNIC food truck is on site every show, providing delectable pre-show meals and intermission snacks. It’s been a great relationship. We’ve been onsite for four years now.” However, with an outdoor location there can be slight complications, especially considering the unpredictable weather we’ve been having this summer. Phillips explains, “Our never-ending winter kind of turned into a non-summer, in some ways. There have been lovely days but there’s always a breeze out at Rosehall. The show is lovely out there, absolutely lovely, and the tent is a wonderful little oasis, but today’s high is 16 degrees. That’s just downright unsummerly! Tonight there’s hot chocolate and blankets on offer.” However, Phillips assures us that because we are Canadian, we can handle the weather.

The weather is not the only complication to rise during production for The Festival Players. Six days before show opening they had to replace their lead actor for the piece. “Our lead had to leave the show on very short notice and we scrambled to find someone who was right for the part who thought they could pull it off in under a week! ‘Wanted ASAP — a pro or a fool to tackle the near impossible.’ Douglas Hughes, [actor from Canadian Actor’s Equity Association], is both a pro and a fool (in the nicest way possible) and was on fire to get everything right by opening. And so he did. He did a fantastic job.” With the new actor in his place and the show over a week into its run, Phillips has high hopes for all audience members. “I suppose the first thing I’d hope is that they take away the joy of the piece, that they breathe a little deeper and smile a little brighter for the experience, even if just for a while.  Hopefully they see some of themselves, some of their own foibles, and can be a bit gentler with everyone. There is an innocence, a naivety, that is accessible and recognizable, and [what better way] to connect with people than through delicious and genuine laughter?”

Test Drive will be closing the season for The Festival Players, but Phillips gives insight into what the audience can expect from next season. “I can’t be very specific yet, other than to say that audiences can expect more high-calibre, Canadian theatre and performance, featuring outstanding professionals from across the country. Hopefully that’s enough to entice people to check the site and see what’s up when they’re planning their summer schedule next year!”

Test Drive runs until August 24th. For more information, visithttp://festivalplayers.ca/.