WORLD WEARY: McCalla (centre), Maye and Salmon get in character.
Sometimes in a film or a play a lead actor is so good that he (or she) makes the flaws in the rest of the work seem larger than they are. Nothing short of a testimony to their artistic gifts. Such is the case with Barbara McCalla in Stop Dat Train, the latest comedy-drama from writer Angie Binns, running at New Kingston’s Pantry Playhouse. McCalla, the best thing about the play, plays Franceta Jones, a heavy-hearted woman who makes a sudden return to the deep rural community she once lived after fleeing two years ago.
Reuniting with daughter Gina (Zandriann Maye) at the family home and farm, Franceta catches the eye of farmhand Hawthorn (Winston Bell), with whom she begins a tentative romance. But Franceta is a woman with a past, harbouring a dark secret and, as she quickly learns, leaving the past behind isn’t necessarily the easiest feat to pull off. As played by McCalla, Franceta comes off as a brave, resilient woman who earns our sympathy. And, thankfully, the portrayal avoids any trace of showy emotionalism, in spite of Binns’ highly sensitive writing.
Though lighthearted and sporadically humorous (as directed by David Tulloch) my big problem with Stop Dat Train is that for a family-centric comedy-drama, the characters are predominantly thin sketches with very little motivation or heartwarming appeal. Still, there’s no doubt that, for one, Franceta is a gratifying part to play and McCalla is radiant in the role. Bell has some fun playing Hawthorn, even if the dialogue makes him slip into clichés a bit too frequently for comfort.
There’s a wan sub-plot involving Gina’s agoraphobia, a set-up that offers Maye a couple scene-stealing opportunities. The Pantomime Company’s Toni-Ann Fraser (as a jilted lover) and stage veteran Terri Salmon (as the nosy and quirky family friend Birdie) enjoy fleeting moments in the spotlight.
In the end, McCalla leaves the most memorable impression, carrying Stop Dat Train past many of its limitations and implausibilities. Tyrone’s Verdict: B-