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Gil Garratt shines as Arlan Galbraith in Blyth's "The Pigeon King"

By: Liz Dadson
August 12, 2017
 
 

What takes flight always comes home to roost.

And so it goes for Arlan Galbraith, the consummate salesman, who convinces farmers in southwestern Ontario to buy into his pigeon-breeding company, Pigeon King International, from 2001-2008, only to have it crumble down around him as he faces bankruptcy, fraud and jail time.

This is the story of "The Pigeon King," written by The Company and directed by Severn Thompson, which opened to a sold-out, appreciative audience, Friday night at the Blyth Festival Theatre.

Gil Garratt, Blyth's artistic director, is stellar as Galbraith. He captivates the audience right from his opening monologue as he takes a deep breath and says "Pig shit" and ends with his vision of a pigeon-breeding empire, and his famous words, "Have I got a deal for you!"

Taking on the perfect personification of Galbraith, he travels from farmer to farmer, convincing them to purchase hundreds of pairs of pigeons for breeding, and then purchasing the baby birds back from them.

Garratt is supported by an amazing cast playing various roles, most notably J.D. Nicholsen who is the fiery pyramid-scheme-busting Jerry Wilder (as well as other roles), along with Rebecca Auerbach, Jason Chesworth, George Meanwell, Birgitte Solem and Ajineen Sagal (who replaces Auerbach from Sept. 4-23).

Everything about this show is superb. The set, designed by Steve Lucas, takes you right inside the barn so that you feel as if you are front and centre where all the action is happening. The actors move seamlessly from the barn, to an office, to a meeting, to the outside; they play music in the background and then gather to sing.

And even though you know that Galbraith ends up bankrupt and charged with fraud, you can't help getting caught in "pigeon fever," laughing at the jokes, and feeling as if you should champion Galbraith and his goal of helping the family farm to survive.

Then a reporter with "Better Farming" starts asking questions, things begin to unravel, and finally, the pigeon crap hits the fan, and you realize there isn't anything to laugh at. One of the farmers' wives tells him that something doesn't feel right, and he jokingly tells her not to ruffle any feathers. The audience titters a bit but it's strained laughter.

The doors close on Pigeon King International and suddenly, the lights comes on and it's time for intermission.

In the second act, featuring the court case, Garratt plays Galbraith beautifully - belligerent, stubborn, accusing, representing himself and asking ridiculous questions of his victim.

But the sad part is watching the farmers having to destroy all those pigeons, and the realization that even though Galbraith ended up in jail, there was no money for restitution so the investors lost everything.

It's a fascinating story, remarkably told by a magnificent cast. It's well worth the price of admission.

"The Pigeon King" runs until Sept. 23. Reserve your seats by calling the Box Office at 519-523-9300, toll-free at 1-877-862-5984 or on-line at blythfestival.com.

Meanwhile, "The Berlin Blues" continues until Aug. 19. This goofy, supposed comedy tells the story of German developers arriving unannounced on the sleepy, fictional Otter Lake reserve, with plans to infuse millions of dollars to create "Ojibway World."

It truly is full of ridiculous notions and over-used pandering, with the actors pushing the limits of strident, in-your-face comedy just to get laughs.

The only real stand-out cast members are Jonathan Fisher as Trailer, the relaxed-Indian-turned-entrepreneur; Catherine Fitch as Birgit, one of the German developers; and James Dallas Smith as Andrew, the local police officer.

Also taking the stage, are Nyla Carpenter as Donalda, Nicole Joy-Fraser as Angie, and Tony Munch as Reinhart.

 

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