Review: Good Fences



ATP PlayRites Festival: Good Fences

Written by the Downstage Creation Ensemble

Directed by Simon Mallet

The stage in Good Fences is unique in that it is made up of individual segments, put together like a jigsaw puzzle. The first level of the stage is red, representing the gas pipelines that run underneath the prairie landscape. The second level is green, representing the farmers who earn their living working the land.

The stage transforms into pullout stage props — stools, doorways and an ingeniously hidden table — while symbolically falling apart as the story progresses. The land becomes fractured, much like the lives of the people living on it.

Good Fences, the final play to premiere in the PlayRites Festival, is a must-see show for anyone connected with either farming or the oil and gas industry — which is to say, everyone in Alberta.

Good Fences focuses on a rural community whose friendships and loyalties are tested when a gas company announces plans to lay a sour gas pipeline under their lands.

But rather than a typical David-versus-Goliath story, the folks at Downstage Creation Ensemble have crafted a complex, mutli-layered and evocative story that refuses to pander to traditional notions of what an environmentally focused play should be.

Devon (Braden Griffiths) is a big city gas exec and family man from Calgary who buys a second property in the town just as the new pipeline is being explained to his neighbours. Despite his limited connection to the land — his property is essentially a giant backyard for his son to go ATVing— he galvanizes opposition to the project with help from local cattle rancher Caroline (Ellen Close).

There is a delicious irony to having Devon, who owes his livelihood to the gas industry and wants for nothing, convince his neighbours to lay everything on the line for the cause.

The farmers, whose dealings with the gas company have yielded mixed results in the past, have good reason to be concerned about a pipeline crossing their watersheds. The local gas company representative (Nicola Elsen) is sympathetic, but it's also her job to convince the landowners to accept financial compensation and avoid a costly court battle.

At its heart, Good Fences is about how rural communities and the energy sector are inexorably linked in both conflict and prosperity. Despite their stated opposition to the project, farmers in the affected area survive off the wealth generated by allowing gas companies to drill wells on their land, while their sons and daughters work as pipeline monitors. When things are working well, everyone benefits. But when things go wrong, everyone suffers.

 

Good Fences runs until March 4 at Epcor Centre's Big Secret Theatre. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to atplive.com.

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