originally published November 2008

“A boat that floats on air has no heart,” Jack (John Dartt) says aboard the Miss Tilley, the rumrunners boat on which the entire play takes place, in the round, for Berni Stapleton’s latest comedic but historically relevant and poignant masterpiece, A Rum for the Money. The show had a long ‘rum’ itself, featured from June to September at the Gros Morne Theatre Festival before a final run in the capitol city.

Dartt, White & Furlong — Photo by Denyse Karn

L-R: Dartt, White & Furlong — Photo by Denyse Karn

The show is about Jack and two other men, Jim (Evan White) and his Uncle Frank (Colin Furlong). Jack and Frank were the seasoned experts of rum running but took Jim, a boat builder who’s afraid of the water, along for his young strength. Their conversations made references to life and culture of Newfoundland – the ‘divide’ of people smoking rollies versus tailor-mades, Hard Buns, “that’s a raisin bun without the raisins,” Tibbo’s store and Foote’s Taxi – not only helping to familiarize an audience with the setting but also the men themselves. The references weren’t overkill; interestingly, women so often wonder what men would say in the place of chick-chat and this seemed to be it.

They shared their stories as a way of allowing one another to get to know them. Though Dartt is from Halifax he can certainly talk like a Newfoundlander. Though the stories it was evident that while they are all quite different and rum running for their own reasons, they were all struggling against something. Uncle Frank is plagued with forcing doubt in his own polished abilities with no cause immediately given. He references his hateful wife but is on the run to afford her “one of them new fangled rotary phones.”

Jim’s reason is a baby on the way with his wife Lizzie whom he’s madly fallen for. Although his excitable and sometimes overactive personality is charming, Lizzie’s patience with him is clear by how he speaks of her. Teaching him to read and write, he shared, she said that “a man can’t be expected to learn all at once ‘cos his head’d get stogged!” Jack’s mission for the money is to move to the big city (St. John’s, not New York) and go out on Saturday, church on Sunday and Bingo on Monday, but the real prize will be his new dentures – “the good kind – the kind that fits your mouth.”

On the voyage back with the rum the three face perils of nature, being ill-prepared and themselves. The set was designed with half a dory cut to be creatively used for the entire show. The old boat’s wood creaked when the actors moved around on it which kicked up the ‘real’ factor. There was an engine aboard for which there was sound when it was being started but once it was ‘running’ the sound cue ended there was a calm silence again. Having a low hum might’ve been monotonous on an audience for as long as it would be needed but a faint sound of water rippling along the boat now and then might have held on to the realism. Vocal tracks leading in and out of the acts were good and a story told in act two by Frank with Jim singing underneath was surprising and beautiful.

Overall the show was very entertaining. The only beat missed was when a cobbled together wooden cross made in the darkest hour tumbled off the boat but it was handled with grace. The full package of ambient blue lighting, punchy and thoughtful script, the set and performances did an excellent job of dramatically telling the stories of three rumrunnin’ men and taking it’s audience back in time for an evening.

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