Take a heap of Walt Wingfield, a bit of Breaking Bad, a pinch of Reefer Madness, put it in your pipe and smoke it - and there you have Ken Cameron’s Harvest, the season closer at Prairie Theatre Exchange. And it’s no Acapulco Gold - but it does provide a pleasantly mellow comedic buzz.
'They also clearly love each other - and show the kind of solidarity that so often kept family farms like theirs going generation after generation.' - Joff Schmidt
Based on the true story of Cameron’s parents, the play follows the Duncansons, a couple ready to sell off the family farm and retire to the big city. But they keep the farmhouse to rent out - to a shady character who insists on paying in cash and ends up, of course, using the house for a marijuana grow-op.
There are no major spoilers there - all of that happens in the first act. And even if you haven’t read the plot synopsis going in, it’s quickly apparent where Cameron’s light comedy is going. Indeed, were it not based on a true story, it’d be hard to believe anyone would be as trusting - or, to be less charitable, naive - as the Duncansons. And the audience figures out long before they do what’s going on.
And that’s the chief problem with Cameron’s play. It began life as a one-act - and even at a relatively compact 105 minutes (with an intermission), it feels like it might’ve been better off sticking to a single act. Besides the fact we can plainly see where the story is going, the writing feels flabby, particularly in its first half - there are whole scenes that are entirely unnecessary (why do we have to go on a tangential condo tour with the Duncansons, for example?).
And while there are chuckles, Harvest doesn’t deliver big enough laughs to sustain its first act.
Things pick up considerably in the second, once the Duncansons have figured out what’s happening - and have to deal with the serious aftermath of an abandoned grow-op, an unsympathetic insurance company, and a retirement that’s not going according to plan.
The saving grace of Harvest is not in witty dialogue or snappy one-liners or even in a particularly compelling story - none of those things are the play’s strength. It’s in the relationship between Allan and Charlotte, our well-intentioned, if credulous, heroes. They’re a likeable couple, and even more importantly, a believable one. They bicker, they contradict each other’s stories, and they certainly don’t always make the right choices. But they also clearly love each other - and show the kind of solidarity that so often kept family farms like theirs going generation after generation.
Cameron emphasizes that relationship with a clever dramatic device - although the play features a range of supporting characters, it’s all performed by just two actors - often trading roles with each other in the same scene. It all gives the play the folksy feel of a friendly couple telling us a tale, and gives Harvest a certain charm that shines through its faults.
Local vets Tom Anniko and Megan McArton both do an admirable job of convincingly selling a relationship that clearly has a lot of history. And under Arne MacPherson’s direction, they keep the show moving along briskly, with smart transitions from character to character and scene to scene.
It’s not quite the bumper crop of laughs you might hope for. But as long as you don’t expect it to hit great comedic highs, Harvest offers enough giggles to entertain. And it won’t even give you the munchies.
Harvest runs at Prairie Theatre Exchange until April 20.