It is easy to empathize with Jane Parker — who “dreams a lot.” Her hopeful, ambitious path to a newspaper career has somehow slipped into that seam between dream and nightmare, and she has found herself in Pickle River, Ontario. There she encounters Roy Little, who has taken on a fantastic dream of his own.
Remember the furor that accompanied the release of the iPad? How it would revolutionize the very core of our society? Well, here’s a communications revolution that licks that hollow — the advent of radio circa 1930, which is when Cranbrook Community Theatre’s season-launching production takes place.
Director Tanya Laing Gahr and Producer Sally Masters have brought “Babe Ruth Comes To Pickle River” out from Fort Steele, where it ran this summer, to the cozy environs of the Studio Stage Door. The play opens tonight (Thursday, Oct. 4) and runs through Saturday, Oct. 6.
Roy (played by David Popoff) has decided that he is getting into the radio business, in Pickle River — a mining town hundreds of miles north of “civilization,” always hovering on the brink of extinction. Economically it’s dominated by mining interests, of course, and in information terms the local newspaper.
But Roy has an advantage — he has the great Babe Ruth’s hand on his shoulder and voice in his ear like an advising angel. Ruth has recently gained his immense heroic stature by hitting 60 home runs, which made Roy “feel so good he quit the mine.” And so, having quit the mine, Roy is starting a radio station, which in Pickle River is against all odds.
If Roy has the advantage of Babe Ruth as his inner voice and a romantic dreaming nature, Jane Parker (Lisa Aasebo) has the advantage of an indomitable spirit, a grand ability to think outside the box, and no small amount of desperation, being trapped in the boondocks to end all boondocks. When two different kinds of visions collide — like the newspaper and the radio — it can mean warfare. When two different visions unite — like Roy’s and Jane’s — then magic can ensue.
Of course, our protagonists must still somehow find an end to that on-going soap opera they’ve created, get that jazz-a-ma-razz out over the airwaves without provoking the churchy set, and in short, make all the right noises. Roy and Jane’s radio station buzzes along on top of the undercurrents of economic and social drama. But collisions are coming — will Roy’s passion, Jane’s genius and Babe Ruth’s sporting analogy advice be enough?
Make no mistake: Babe Ruth is as central a character to the production as the dozen or so others — residents of Pickle River — that Popoff and Aasebo bring to life each by each and again and again, with persistent shifts in accent, physical carriage and — very important — headwear.
Thus, a cast of two has inhabited and peopled an entire community. In this regard, the actors are aided by the set — simple, easily re-arrangeable and lit with browns and natural hues that give it the aura of a sepia tinged portrait. The soundscape is patterned after radio plays of yore.
But it is largely the acting skills of Aasebo and Popoff who draw us in to Pickle River, Ontario — or anywhere, Northern Canada, really — with our “willing dispension of unbelief,” back to the days when a communications revolution swept us along by the heart.
“Babe Ruth Comes To Pickle River,” written by Nelles Van Loon, features Lisa Aasebo and David Popoff. The play is directed by Tanya Laing Gahr and produced by Sally Masters. It runs Oct. 4, 5 and 6 at the Studio Stage Door in Cranbrook. Showtimes are 8 p.m.