ORANGEVILLE – Motivated by a recent influx of city folks to the countryside, Dan Needles calls his latest theatrical production a primer of sorts for rural living.
And while there may indeed be some helpful tips for urbanites scattered throughout More Confessions from the Ninth Concession – on stage now at Theatre Orangeville – not surprisingly, the play’s humour, much of it self-deprecating, will be better appreciated by current or former rural residents or those with a direct connection to the land.
Raised in Dufferin County, Needles is the author of the Wingfield Farm plays, which have been performed across North America for decades. Confessions is a logical extension of his main theme as a writer: exploring life where country and city meet.
This is the second instalment of “confessions.” True Confessions from the Ninth Concession was released in 2017, based on Needles’ writing in area print publications.
Bell, a native of Waterford, is once again a fine addition to Confessions. The folk musician, who has performed across Canada and in the United States since the late 1970s, was a founding contributor to Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Café, Fresh Air and other CBC radio programs.
Bell’s musical numbers, at times amusing and at others more heartfelt, are a great addition to Needles’ material, though the production could benefit from a little more interaction between the two men.
Audiences not familiar with the concept should know Confessions is not a play, but instead a collection of stories and “lessons” from Needles, accompanied by songs by Bell.
The relaxed feel is a welcome departure from most theatrical presentations.
The material from Needles and Bell runs the gamut of rural life, from hall and barn dances and local lore to the weather and why one should never, ever own horses.
A welcome addition to this iteration of Confessions is the real-life history that Needles sprinkles in between jokes and tall tales. Also welcome are a few more serious and heartfelt stories, which help to explain the draw of the countryside despite all the negative aspects fuelling most of the punchlines.
Needles is charming and funny once again, but he did have a few stumbles along the way, despite his reliance on notes throughout the production. Bell also had a couple missteps at a preview performance on March 24, but in general his musical and vocal performance was a fitting complement to Needles’ dialogue.
Some audience members might find some of the material a bit bland – Needles, after all, has been writing on the topic for decades – but overall the production is a funny and entertaining commentary on what theatre officials describe as “the rural-urban divide that puzzles so many newcomers to the country.”
More Confessions from the Ninth Concession plays until April 10. For tickets call 519-942-3423 or 1-800-424-1295 or visit ttheatreorangeville.ca.