Royal MTC's crowd-pleasing cottage conflict comedy is well worth a visit

While maintaining, and sharing, the family cottage may be a challenge at times, Jake MacDonald’s new play The Cottage is anything but — it’s light, breezy entertainment that goes down as easy as a cold beer on the dock on a hot summer day.

Winnipeg writer Jake MacDonald’s The Cottage an entertaining look at challenges of sharing the family cabin

There may not be a lot of big surprises, but there are plenty of laughs in Jake MacDonald's The Cottage. Left to right: Jane Burpee as Eleanor, Chris Sigurdson as Bennet, Jennifer Lyon as Randall, Doug McKeag as Fob and Tom Keenan as Matty. (Dylan Hewlett/RMTC)

When you think about it, Winnipeg writer Jake MacDonald suggests, there is something just a bit masochistic about the cottage culture that seems to thrive in Manitoba as in few other places.

"Canadians are the only people in the world who spend their weekends in a vermin-infested cottage, swatting mosquitoes and arguing," says one of the characters in his new play The Cottage.

It's MacDonald's first play — the veteran writer's focus until now was mainly on prose fiction and non-fiction — and it's a charming and crowd-pleasing closer for the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre's season.

While cottages may be a challenge at points, MacDonald's play is anything but — it's light, breezy entertainment that goes down as easy as a cold beer on dock on a hot summer day.

It centres on a premise so familiar to so many Manitobans it is a wonder no one has written it before.

Siblings Randall (Jennifer Lyon), Bennet (Chris Sigurdson) and Matty (Tom Keenan) are up at the family cottage for a Labour Day weekend. That's when their aging mother, Eleanor (Jane Burpee), springs the news that she's passing the century-old family cabin on to the kids — but it's up to them to figure out, before the end of the weekend, how they'll share it.

The Cottage explores the complications that arise when three siblings have to find a way to share the family property. (Dylan Hewlett/RMTC)

Oh, and they're under strict orders that there's to be no arguing about it.

There are a couple of other complications in the mix. Randall is maybe a bit too friendly with the local handyman, Brad (Adam Hurtig), which really becomes an issue when a surprise visitor arrives — her city-boy banker beau, Fob (Doug McKeag).

All of this has the potential for some good situation comedy, and MacDonald's script delivers. It moves briskly, lagging just a little toward the end of its two-hour running time. Though he populates the stage with a lot of characters, they're all well defined, as are their clearly deep — and often complicated — relationships.

There's a genuine sense of the sibling dynamic between Randall — the glue in the family — bossy eldest Bennet, and free-spirited (if somewhat adolescent) youngest Matty.

Cory Wojcik as Brucester and RobYn Slade as Kris. MacDonald smartly establishes the relationships between the characters in his play by showing, rather than telling. (Dylan Hewlett/RMTC)

Even in other character relationships, MacDonald smartly establishes history through showing, rather than telling.

Take the arena-rock call-and-response between Matty and the family's party animal neighbour Brucester (Cory Wojcik), or the chilly relationship between Bennet and his longtime (and, we sense, long-suffering) girlfriend, Kris (RobYn Slade). They're small touches that build a genuine and palpable sense of history among all of these characters.

There's an even more palpable sense of history in the location itself, and designer Brian Perchaluk's perfectly realized cottage set is dazzling enough that it drew its own round of applause from the opening night audience on its first full reveal.

Director Robb Paterson's production mines every bit of comedy there is out of MacDonald's script, and then some. Paterson opens the comedy with a flurry of activity, some great physical farce and a breakneck pace that doesn't let up until the play's end (an ending that's perhaps a bit on the sweet side, but is largely earned).

Jane Burpee and Jennifer Lyon in the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre's April 2019 production of Jake MacDonald's The Cottage. (Dylan Hewlett/RMTC)

There are some marvellous comic performances here — in particular, Wojcik steals scenes as the schlubby but lovable Brucester, and Slade finds some great comedy as the fish-out-of-water Kris, while Lyon's Randall — in some ways the comedy's straightwoman — draws laughs with her randy carrying on with Brad.

The Cottage isn't a play that digs too deep or reinvents the comedic wheel, and it's one that in many ways, speaks to a fairly specific demographic (let's be honest — worrying about how to manage your second home is about as First World as First World problems get).

But for anyone who has fond — or even not so fond — memories of spending time in the woods with the family, The Cottage is entirely worth a visit.

The Cottage runs at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre's John Hirsch Mainstage until May 18.

Preview of The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre's production of The Cottage, April 25 – May 18, 2019 2:50

About the Author

Joff Schmidt

CBC theatre reviewer

Joff Schmidt is a copy editor for CBC Manitoba. Since 2005, he's also been CBC Manitoba's theatre critic on radio and online. He majored in theatre at the U of M, and performed in many university and Fringe festival productions along the way (ranging from terrible to pretty good, according to the reviews). Find him on Twitter @JoffSchmidt.


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