Will it be love or money that buys happiness?
Find out in a bonus production at the Chemainus Theatre Festival, as curmudgeonly stockbroker-turned-farmer named Walt Wingfield returns to the stage in Wingfield’s Folly, which opens next week.
Presenting the animated solo show, award-winning Canadian actor and comedian Rod Beattie turns Wingfield’s economic trials into a clever tale of love versus ambition as he makes his third Chemainus Theatre Festival appearance. His search for happiness takes the Festival stage from Oct. 31 to Nov. 17.
Wingfield’s Folly is the third in a series of seven plays written by Dan Needles, which also include Letter from Wingfield Farm and Wingfield’s Progress. Originally written as a collection of letters to the editor, each tale is a hilarious look into the life of stockbroker-turned-farmer Walt Wingfield, who is trying everything to eke out a living in small-town Ontario.
Wingfield is desperate to overcome two profit-free years of farming and has finally pinpointed the source of his financial problems and devised the ultimate solution to gain financial freedom. Without hesitation, he sets a plan into motion that will lead to his most profound success — or largest personal crisis.
But Wingfield cannot achieve his radical idea to create a closed economy on his own. He must convince his offbeat friends and neighbours to reject Canadian cash in favour of their own currency. When his plans are interrupted by an unexpected romance, Wingfield faces an unexpected pitchfork in his road to big profit, and a deeper conundrum. Will it be money or love that buys happiness?
To Beattie, Walt Wingfield is a hero.
“He does something which many of us dream of doing but never come close to — he takes a plunge and changes his life,” he said in an e-mail from eastern Canada. “He makes a decision that instead of going along being dissatisfied with the path that his life has taken, he’ll actually change paths. He has the courage of his convictions. And he sticks with it. Long after any sane person would have abandoned the enterprise as hopeless, he not only perseveres, but he takes a shot at making it work in the face of incredible odds. He makes Don Quixote look like an actualist accountant. And by doing it, he gives us hope; he gives us hope that as long the human spirit continues to strive, as long as people like Walt continue to insist on human values and community values, good things will happen.”
Over the past 25 years, Beattie has appeared in more than 4,000 productions of the award-winning Wingfield series, including television, radio, and major Canadian theatres.
“For an actor, a part like Wingfield is a dream come true,” he said. “You get to play a huge range of parts every night. I started my career in a repertory company at the Stratford Festival. Part of the appeal of that is that you get to have a number of parts with a range of characteristics that you’re rehearsing or playing at any given time. Wingfield is just like like that except that instead of changing parts from one day to the next, you change from one moment to the next.”
Wingfield’s Folly is directed by Beattie’s brother, Doug.
“I find bringing new plays to life to be a particularly satisfying activity,” Doug said by e-mail. “I love the chance to work often with Rod and Dan. I love the characters, the humour and the truthfulness of the material. I love Rod’s extraordinary acting work in it. I love that we’ve taken on new challenges with each play and have taken the time to do a thorough job, honing the scripts and rehearsing them. I’ve loved watching the performances ripen and mature over the years.”
Doug is very impressed with how Wingfield’s Folly has turned out.
“Wingfield’s Folly is beautifully acted and beautifully written,” he said. “It is funny, moving, wise, witty and makes for a fabulous afternoon or evening in the theatre.”
Doug’s association with Needles goes back to childhood summers spent on the farm.
“As a teenager, I spent all my summers working on the Needles’ farm near Rosemont, Ont., which is how I got to know Dan and the rest of his family,” said Doug. “As a university student in Toronto, I followed Dan’s syndicated column, Letter From Wingfield Farm, which was published in weekly newspapers across the province. It was for this column that Dan created the character of stockbroker-turned-farmer Walt Wingfield, who recounts his misadventures on the farm by means of weekly letters to the editor. A few years later, I became a theatre producer and director. I was looking for a new, original, distinctively Canadian, small-cast show and suggested to Dan that he might adapt his columns.”
Wingfield’s Folly plays Oct. 31 to Nov. 17 at the Chemainus Theatre Festival. Tickets and show times are available online and through the box office at 1-800-565-7738.