Set, John Thompson. Opened Nov. 6, 1997, at the Bluma Appel Theater, St. Lawrence Center. Reviewed Nov. 10; 875 seats; C$ 55 ($ 39) top. Running time: 2 HOURS, 5 MIN.
Having toured Canada for 17 years, “The Wingfield Cycle” has spurred its fourth installment and taken its place as the most often-produced series of plays in Canada. The popular series follows the mishaps of the fictional Walt Wingfield, a well-meaning but bungling stockbroker-turned-farmer in Ontario. His exploits are relayed through letters sent to a community newspaper.
It’s easy to see why Walt and his eccentric neighbors have struck a chord with audiences. Author Dan Needles translates his gift of gab into urbane storytelling, and with the help of actor Rod Beattie and his director brother Douglas Beattie, these one-man shows are little gems of fireside lore reflecting on simpler times and simpler lives.
The latest installment, “Wingfield Unbound,” has Walt back to part-time brokering to support his unsuccessful rural endeavors. He’s also now married to Maggie, the infinitely patient and level-headed girl from the farm next door.
Of the 15 characters who appear in “Wingfield Unbound” (including a dog), Maggie stands out. Beattie’s restrained impersonation, with a shift of hands and body weight, turns Maggie into a deeply felt character.
Beattie’s innate ability to produce memorable folk with a minimum of physical exaggeration, along with Needles’ affection for his characters, makes “Wingfield Unbound” a warm, engaging show. Designer John Thompson has created an effective, rudimentary barn backdrop, but this Wingfield can play on an empty stage under a rehearsal light. Like all good storytelling, it lives in the imagination of its audience.