Sacramento, CA 95814
Harry Sullivan is an SOB. That’s how his girlfriend describes him, and he doesn’t deny it. In fact, Harry revels in his persona as a bitter, sarcastic 60-year-old curmudgeon. So how does an SOB living out in rural Saskatchewan react to a son he hasn’t seen in 13 years? Well, just as you’d think an SOB would.
But if that was the sole crux of Norm Foster’s Mending Fences, now at B Street Theatre, the play would be one dreary downer. What Foster manages to do is layer pathos and humor into the poignant situation of a dysfunctional father-son relationship while keeping unrealistic Hallmark moments at bay.
Harry (Phil Cowan) has settled into a sad routine of odd jobs and beer drinking—lots of beer drinking—after losing his cattle operation to a mad cow outbreak. But he was already in slow freefall after his wife left him years ago, taking their teenage son, Drew, when she had enough of the rural western Canadian isolation. The only bright spot in Harry’s life is his spitfire girlfriend, Gin (Stephanie McVay), a fellow rancher who lives on an adjoining ranch and provides him with witty, playful, call-his-bullshit banter.
Son Drew (Michael Navarra) is back for a surprise visit, carrying a small duffle bag and large emotional baggage of his failed marriage and his own young son he left behind. He’s also packing major resentment toward his father. Within a very short time, it’s evident that similar life circumstances and personality temperament both repel and bond these two peas in a pod.
Canadian playwright Foster is obviously happy with B Street’s previous productions of his plays (that include The Melville Boys, The Affections of May, Drinking Alone and The Motor Trade), because he has trusted the theater with the U.S. debut of Mending Fences.
And B Street repays him by pulling together a solid cast under the strong guidance of Elisabeth Nunziato, who is proving herself a capable director as she is a B Street acting regular. Two cast members who also prove themselves as talented B Street regulars are Cowan and McVay, who not only have the ability to lose themselves in characters, but present egoless performances. Newcomer Navarra also delivers in his portrayals of the son as an adult, as a teen and as a young Harry.
In the end, this bittersweet play is more bitter than sweet, but it becomes clear that this father and son finally have nothing, and everything, to say to each other.