Wingfield on Ice by Dan Needles, directed by Douglas Beattie, with Rod Beattie. Presented by David and Ed Mirvish at the Winter Garden Theatre (189 Yonge). Runs to February 23, Tuesday-Saturday 8:30 pm, matinees Wednesday, Saturday-Sunday 2:30 pm. $28-$55. 416-872-1212. Rating: NN
Dan Needles's successful Wingfield Cycle -- Wingfield On Ice is the fifth instalment -- is the dramatic equivalent of Reader's Digest.The audience gets an occasional chuckle, nuggets of folk wisdom, sketches of eccentric types and even a variation on the Digest's column Word Power. We learn, for instance, that an almost purebred dog is synonymous with a borderline collie.
It's an evening at the theatre that's safe, conservative and largely predictable, despite some craft in its construction.
Rod Beattie's had a national success since the mid-80s as the series's sole actor, playing its multiple characters. The central figure is Walt Wingfield, a stockbroker turned gentleman farmer in southwestern Ontario's Persephone Township. He's in his fifth year on the farm, his wife Maggie is pregnant, and an ice storm threatens the community's welfare.
Apart from the narrative frame, Beattie presents all the material as weekly letters Walt writes to the local newspaper editor, producing a diary that portrays Walt's quirky neighbours and their relationships. Ongoing feuds, the emergency uses made of a Y2K generator and potential fillings for cream puffs are the stuff of their daily lives.
Beattie is adept vocally and physically at creating the characters, and occasionally -- as with an Irish Catholic woman who marries into an Orange Protestant household -- gives them a touch of emotional depth.
Director Douglas Beattie encourages the performing equivalent of a slow drawl, with the pauses for laughs almost built in.
Wingfield On Ice is for those who like their human interest stories without any dramatic excitement.