Sometime back in August, which now seems so long ago that I don’t remember exactly which part, all four of us had an evening at the theatre – good clothes, wine during the intermission sort of theatre. The play was Wingfield’s Folly. If you’re Canadian, you may have heard of “Letters from Wingfield Farm” by Dan Needles. He wrote a series of plays based on the book, and Wingfield’s Folly is the one of them. All of the plays are performed by one actor, Rod Beattie. They’ve been performed all over Canada in the last 20 or so years, I believe they’ve been read on NPR and CBC as well, and they make great audio listening on long road trips.
It felt a little odd, rushing through chores, washing off mud put there by the pigs, getting into good clothes and then standing in the foyer of the Belfry Theatre, glass of wine in hand, making erudite conversation with a couple standing near me, while I waited for husband and teens to finish getting snacks at the concession. I had seen the first play many years ago, in another life (I was still in the Navy, no kids), in Vancouver, and I’ve listened to some of the second play on audio, so pretty much knew what we’d be watching. The girls had also heard the audio, and were not particularly thrilled to be compelled to sit in a “posh” theatre with old people to watch a farming play full of trite humour. But there’s something about live theatre, especially when it’s done well, and even old jokes can sound pretty good. The girls laughed plenty, and were impressed at the versatility of the actor (rightly so).
One of the reasons we went to see the play last month was because I remembered how funny the first one was, and I thought we should see it live before Rod Beattie retired – I’m not sure what it would be like without him in the role. What I wasn’t prepared for was the fact that if you actually grapple with farming on a daily basis the play isn’t funny at all. I found myself almost in tears at one point, people giggling around me. What on earth was everyone finding so funny in the story of a guy struggling with the reality of trying to make his farm pay enough for him to live on? My husband gave me a nudge, a tissue and a sympathetic grimace – he knew how I felt. I sniffed (quietly, I hope) and moved on, finding ways to see the humour like everyone else.
The play is of course about far more than farming. It’s about community and relationships, developing roots in a place, and yes, farming a little bit. If you can get your hands on a copy of the book or one of the audios from the library, give it a try. The author, Dan Needles, used to write the back page for Harrowsmith Country Living, and now does the back page for Small Farm Canada. If you live in Canada, maybe you’ll be lucky enough to see the play live one day. In the meantime, here’s a clip from Wingfield’s Lost and Found: