TILLSONBURG by Malachy McKenna, directed by Miles Potter, with McKenna and Paul Essiembre. Canadian Stage (26 Berkeley). Runs to November 24, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday 1:30 pm and Saturday 2 pm. $25-$49, limited Monday pwyc and same-day half-price rush. 416-368-3110. Rating: NN
malachy mckenna and paul Essiembre make a great vaudeville duo. That's both the good and the bad news about Tillsonburg, which playwright McKenna based on his own Ontario tobacco-picking experiences.He and Essiembre play a pair of Irish mates who come to Tillsonburg for seasonal work. Running into emotional land mines in the bunkhouse, they also get to resolve an unhealed wound in their relationship. And that's where the script runs into trouble. The problems faced by the two men and the other three characters feel totally contrived, which means the second act dribbles away into forced melodrama.
Still, the actors work with precision under director Miles Potter. McKenna and Essiembre are genuinely funny in the first act's comedy, while David Ferry as their boss alternates between surrogate mother hen and dangerous alcoholic. McKenna supplies less defined characters for Paul Fauteux, as their always-stoned bunkmate, and Lawrence Bayne, as Ferry's native antagonist, though Fauteux draws audience laughs and Bayne has a true sense of menace.