Last Thursday, I set off to Arts Court to check out New Theatre Ottawa’s (NTO) production of Dreams of Whales by Dean Hawes. NTO’s mandate is near to my heart. They aim to produce plays by local playwrights, starring local actors, with production design by Ottawa talent as well. In my view, this is the best way to nurture the talent that already exists in this city. Local writers, in particular, are underused in this town. This is why I was eager to see a script written by a playwright who lives and works in my community, rather than an import from America, Toronto, or elsewhere.
Hawes script tells the story of Walter, a retired lonely dentist, who has returned to his hometown to pursue his childhood sweetheart Ruth (recently widowed). There a few structural issues in Hawes’ script. Part of the story is told through Walter’s monologues (taking place in a dream) and the rest is told in real time. The dream sequences seem kind of unnecessary, as very little key information is conveyed that isn’t already presented in the rest of the narrative. Overall, I enjoyed Hawes’ story and the characters of Walter and Ruth are compelling to watch.
John Koensgen (Walter) and Mary Ellis (Ruth) carry the show. In fact, this is one of Mary Ellis’ strongest performances in recent memory. I found the characters of George (Brad Long) and Susan (Shannon Donnelly) much less interesting, due to uneven performances, and the directorial choices by Koensgen and Janet Irwin (assistant director). Unlike Ruth and Walter, these characters came off as two dimensional whiny brats. The evidence in the script suggests that there is more depth to these two than was witnessed on the stage.
I think Dreams of Whales is very much worth seeing and I applaud NTO for taking a risk by producing a new play by a local writer. I plan to attend the rest of their season to discover what theatrical treasures they can unearth from Ottawa artists.