Written by McGill alumnus Dane Stewart and directed by Patrick Neilson, How Exile Melts is the latest production by the McGill Department of Drama and Theatre. It follows the story of four siblings as they reunite at their old home in Nova Scotia to visit their ailing father, only to dredge up hidden demons, old and new.
Credit must be given to Neilson, whose presence is felt on stage throughout as characters move with deftly executed synchronization. The odd directional choice does crop up occasionally though—namely the strange decision to project environments through still images on a screen above the players. These were intrusive and distracted from what would otherwise be deeply emotional moments from the characters, but overall did not take away from otherwise excellent directing.
Unfortunately, the characters constituted the biggest weakness in the show. While the script itself was not lacking in symbolism nor depth, the characters felt stale in comparison. For example, Glenn (Steven Koutsomitopoulos), the gay elder brother who exudes such extreme flamboyance that he becomes less character and more caricature. Over time, Glenn’s outlandish behaviour somehow managed to work to his advantage in order to lend him more depth, but his initial presence was so over the top that it was difficult to become reinvested in his development. An incredibly glaring problem came from the protagonist, Anna (Hannah Siden), who, while generally well preformed, came off as too robotic at times. Despite how gorgeous her voice was, her jarringly over-sentimental singing peppered throughout the show did nothing to make her more endearing.
Even the most interesting character, the younger brother Dan (Zach Brown), could not escape scriptural problems as his entire backstory and conflict was laid out via repetitive monologue. Fortunately the skeletons in his closet were interesting enough that, along with an effective performance, these issues were hardly noticed. Ultimately, the actors were well cast throughout, and despite some problems inherent with their characters, they were able to make the roles their own, breathing much-appreciated life into otherwise semi-cliché tropes.
It’s important to also acknowledge the stage manager and prop teams for the fantastic set. What it lacks in flashiness and grandiosity it makes up for in attention to detail and care. Everything from the costuming to the mossy wallpaper was clearly put together with a lot of thought, making sure to bring out a particular actor’s personality or the provinciality of their maritime cottage. All this was accentuated by a deftly utilized lighting scheme that helped add another layer of emotion to the piece.
The unfortunate reality is that How Exile Melts is flawed, often glaringly so: Occasionally one-dimensional characters, awkward script problems, and odd directing choices are all prevalent in the show. However, the play manages to overcome these problems and comes together to form a solid, interesting, and thoroughly entertaining performance. A lot of care and hard work have been put into this production, and going to support that kind of dedication is more than worth the ticket price.
How Exile Melts runs from Thursday, Nov. 27 to Saturday, Nov. 29 at Moyse Hall at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10.