All those who have ever been unceremoniously dumped by a partner for situations “beyond our control” should find their way to the Port Mansion Theatre to take solace and hope that isolation and despair—no matter how overwhelming—can be overcome. Norm Foster’s Storm Warning, although uneven in spots, is a thoughtful look into our collective need to be loved by another. It’s seen through the eyes of a shell-shocked survivor and a drug-dependent, big-band arranger who are flung together in the “middle of nowhere” and end up finding themselves.
As Jack Forrester, Phi Bulani combines feigned naïveté and quiet desperation in a manner that draws the audience closer into his plight with every scene. Foster’s gift of chuckling his way into stark reality is at its most effective during Jack’s telling revelation that “war brings out emotions normally kept under wraps.” Bulani’s tone is spot on and his minimalist gestures effectively mirror the scars of horror forever etched on his soul, but the moment falls just short of truly stunning, perhaps awaiting a facial reinforcement to take his inner storm to its epicentre.
The perfect foil to the man who views the unattainable object of his affections through binoculars is the loud and brassy Emma Currie (Debra Hale, who sails through the role with such energy and verve that some of the punch lines don’t have time to sink in before the next set-up begins). Admonished by her mother to “wait for the man who made the earth move,” the reefer-loving orchestrator (but in 1953 would her dance band arrangements really be in demand?) eagerly shares her personal losses as both a means of drawing out her cabin-keeper’s secrets and trying to steal back her amphetamines so that her professional life can continue.
Director Chris McHarge has let his talented charges bring their previous experience and understanding of the roles to this production and they have rewarded his confidence with engaging interaction throughout.
All of the action takes place either in front of (Act I) or inside (Act II) a pair of aging lakeside cabins whose “colleagues” have had a penchant for slipping out of sight. Stewart Simpson’s period set is a marvel of detail, right down to the coffee pot that would most certainly have sat on my father’s stove, yet Jack can’t seem to remember whether his caffeine addiction comes with cream or not. Barb Barber’s costumes, including a faded Hudson’s Bay Company blanket, reflect the characters beautifully. Everything is purposely illuminated by Jeff Johnston-Collins’ effective lighting design.
Unfortunately, the soundscape doesn’t fare as well. The first act’s chirping birds, lapping waves and Canada geese calls soon become tiresome: hunting season couldn’t open soon enough. Similarly, with the exception of the second act accommodation collapse into the watery abyss, the reinforcement of nature’s fury needs better speakers and balance to convince.
Not long after, Foster had the chance to close off the script with Emma’s savvy line about bottom-shelf beer. But he had more work left to do in the possibilities-for-their-future-relationship department. And so a “coda” unfolded to tie up the loose bits and “give you a chance to hate me,” only to have the unlikely lovers shut down the proceedings with cliché rather than revelation.
With a slight reworking of the last dozen minutes, Storm Warning has the potential of moving up a rung from competently good to extraordinarily great. JWR