There’s an old showbiz adage, credited to W.C. Fields, that goes, “never work with children or animals.”
I would argue that statement after seeing Caravan Farm Theatre’s new summer production, The Night’s Mare. In fact, I’d go even further and say the animal here is the star of the show.
Although he appears in the play fleetingly in the first act, Endo, the white speckled Appaloosa, makes his presence known with his very first trot into the paddock, circling in front of the audience without hesitation.
This, at first, may not seem that impressive until you look closer at this remarkable horse.
Blinded five years ago from a painful eye disease known as equine recurrent uveitis, or moon blindness, Endo is not only sightless, he has no eyes. However, his empty sockets have not restricted him from finding his way – his other senses guide him as does his owner from birth, Morgan Wagner, who has her own part in the play.
They are beautiful – a symbiotic force, riding together.
Endo and Morgan so impressed Governor General award winning playwright Kevin Kerr, and the show’s director Courtenay Dobbie (also Caravan’s artistic director), they used their story as inspiration for the play’s underlying theme – of finding strength, beauty, and friendship through the darkness.
With the opening cue of the spiritual I’ll Fly Away, played by the harmonious band of musicians, led by Armstrong’s own Gaz Jordan, with Molly MacKinnon on violin and fiddle and Dennis Siemens on bass, the legend of The Night’s Mare is told by the shaman-like narrator Queenie (scene stealer Susinn McFarlen), who pops in and out of the story, breaking the silence with her throaty laugh and boo-tactic dramatics.
We hear how a blind horse, beloved by the girl who rescues it, is outcast by the girl’s father, who fears for his daughter’s safety. The horse, spooked, disappears with the girl riding on his bare back, only to be seen fleetingly by those who dare enter the woods.
The story begins as a rough-around-the- edges, but soft-on-the-inside, horse tracker named Buck (jovial John Jarvis) is expecting visitors from out of town. He believes the mare is real and wants to rescue it from the woods.
Meanwhile Buck’s daughter, Flo (the endearing Katey Hoffman), the town’s baby whisperer, is planning to leave home to become a magician. Her tricks don’t impress her dad much, but her musician mom, Melody (Sarah May Redmond, also playing her accordion and singing with her amazingly strong voice), encourages Flo to pursue her passion.
With her impending departure, Flo hands off her babysitting job to her gum- and wise-cracking, Twitter-feeding friend Jolene (physical comedy expert Lucy Hill), which cues the band to play the Dolly Parton classic of the same name.
The arrival of the visitors, Hollywood couple Ryan (Robert Salvador, looking spectacular sans shirt) and Jennifer (familiar stage and voice actor Sarah McVie) upends those plans when they arrive at Buck’s ranch, wanting to film a movie about the ghostly mare.
Along for the ride is their own worst nightmare, unruly daughter Allie Ann (Adelleh Furseth, looking a tad mature for a nine-year-old, but pulling it off), whose direction is lost, despite the fact she likes to guide all the action, with one of those annoying scene clapper boards.
Allie Ann’s nanny has quit and as she is needing some guidance, namely a babysitter, in steps Flo and Jolene to the rescue, while Ryan, Jennifer and Buck head out into the woods to hunt down the mare.
Meanwhile, Melody, who is lacking passion in her own life, also goes into the woods with a mickey full of something strong and her cute, young bandmate Gilmour (Daniel Maslany, playing a tiny keyboard and singing like an angel).
Left to their own devices, the girls decide to make their own ghost story and also venture out into the woods. That’s where things get exciting. Marshmallows are devoured, cellular phone connections are lost, kisses are stolen, shirts are torn off (don’t worry, this is a family show – my kids loved it!) and a mysterious white horse and its rider – lit in ghostly fashion – follows all those in their path.
Despite some of the darker themes that lurk beneath the surface, The Night’s Mare is a lively, fun romp. It will have you laughing and in awe when Endo makes his final bow.
With the fitting set of a worn-out farm house facade (designed by James “Jimbo” Insell), the disassembling of which is a cool thing to witness during intermission, the cast and musicians all do an immeasurable job with the material in front of them. The characters and songs will stay with you as you travel through the darkness to wherever home may be.
The Night’s Mare continues at Caravan Farm Theatre to Aug. 23. Shows run nightly at 7:30 p.m. (except Mondays) and tickets can be ordered at the Ticket Seller, 250-549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.