Last Chance to catch Up to Low at NAC

Photo credit: David Hou

The last play of the NAC theatre season closes tomorrow. I have to say that this year, the plays in the smaller Azrieli Studio theatre have been the ones that have impressed me the most so keep a special eye out for those plays next year. The bigger productions, safer theatrical offerings in the Babs Asper Theatre are always great, but I love plays that really make you think. Those seemed to have been the ones in the Studio.

That said, the final show in Babs Asper is a charming story about a boy’s coming of age in 1950s Ottawa Valley, Up to Low, based on the novel by Brian Doyle and adapted for the stage by Janet Irwin. Twelve-year-old Tommy lives in Lowertown, with his Dad and Aunt Dottie. It’s been 2 years since his mother’s death, and the family is planning their first trip without her, back to the cabin in Low, Quebec. Since Aunt Dottie is germ-phobic, Dad and Tommy leave early to get the cabin up to scratch. What Dottie doesn’t (and mustn’t) know, is that Dad’s friend, Frank, is traveling with them. Frank, home from the war, is a boozer and dirty, and Dottie has no time for him.

The road trip there is long and full of stops to every bar in between (bear in mind this is 1950s and drinking and driving laws were different!) and the drive is filled with lots of humour.

Tommy hopes that young Bridget, whose eyes are the “deep green of the Gatineau Hills” is still around the cabin. She is but it turns out her dad, who is known as Mean Hughie, (and for good reason) has taken his cancer-ridden body and disappeared. The two kids set out to find him.

There is nothing that is not great about this production. The acting is phenomenal and stars some of Ottawa’s best. Pierre Brault, Paul Rainville, Kristina Watt, Megan Carty, Attila Clemann, Brendan McMurtry-Howlett, Chris Ralph, Doreen Taylor-Claxton bring the play to life. The characters themselves are engaging and some of them wildly entertaining. Watt’s Aunt Dottie is hilarious.

The music is fantastic and none other than legendary folk giant Ian Tamblyn accompanies the actors. The set is great and the costumes will take you back in time, whisking you into the 1950s. However, here is a word of advice. While the plot will grab your attention, if you are going to bring your kids to it, read up on the play first. Even though it is actually based on a kids’ novel, explain to them what the 50s were like or it will seem like an alien time and universe and they might just not understand. You might get a blank “I don’t get it” look from tech savvy, 13-year-olds. But reading up on it will also serve as a bonding thing to do with them and you too will be better able to contextualize the play.

So if you need something to do this weekend, catch it. It ends tomorrow. Filled with deserted farms, smoky taverns and lots more, Up to Low captures 1950s Ottawa Valley in a beautiful, nostalgic, realistic way.