REVIEW: Freedom 85 busy but features great performances from stars

Audi­ence members taking in Free­dom 85, Theatre Orangeville’s latest production, might find themselves feeling conflicted.

They will really want to sympathize with the loveable characters and embrace the unique story, but they may be frustrated when the comedy’s inherent shortcomings prevent them from doing so wholeheartedly.

Debra Hale, also the show’s playwright, plays Kate, a thirty-something recovering alcoholic who moves across the country in an attempt to start over.

Her first job at her new location, as a waitress at the local Jamaican restaurant, doesn’t last long, but it does afford her the opportunity to meet Sybil, an 85-year-old English immigrant widow who frequents the eatery.

Sybil, played by Andrea Risk, is looking for an accomplice to help her “escape” the nursing home, which she calls “the morgue,” so she takes an immediate liking to Kate and asks for her help.

Kate, in desperate need of employment to start her life over, jumps at the opportunity to serve as Sybil’s “assistant,” even though she may not be qualified.

Together the two women move Sybil back into her old home on the lake, and realizing they have more in common than at first may appear – struggling to maintain independence, a history with substance abuse, an obvious need for some companionship and more – they become good friends.

Hale and Risk are marvelous as Kate and Sybil, but it is with the introduction of the show’s other 12 characters, all played by Hale and Risk, where the production begins to falter. It’s not that the two players do not have the depth or talent to take on so many roles; in fact, the opposite is true, with both jumping between characters and accents with relative ease and impressive composure and timing.

But the simple volume of characters – including some whose value to the production is debatable – makes it more suitable for a four player cast. That is amplified in scenes that feature Hale and Risk portraying no fewer than six characters at once . It’s just too busy.

On more than one occasion the audience could be overheard asking companions what exactly was going on and who was speaking when.

The production starts relatively slowly, but picks up considerably in the second act, with a few great punch lines and a nostalgic mix of heartwarming and melancholy scen­es.

Those featuring World War II are particularly powerful and may hit home with older audience members.

The minimalist set and lighting design from Steve Lucas is, as usual, a fine complement to the production.

It’s a fine script from Hale, and the actors seem to receive great direction from Kathryn Mackay, but even great performances from Hale and Risk fall slightly short of compensating for the overwhelming demand of playing so many characters.

Freedom 85 plays six shows a week until March 7. For tickets call 519-942-3423 or 1-800-424-1295 or visit