Mark Crawford's sold-out 'Chase the Ace' delights Blyth audiences
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Beloved by Blyth Festival audiences for plays like Stag and Doe and The New Canadian Curling Club, Mark Crawford has crafted his own ode to the truth with Chase the Ace.
In what could easily be dubbed a small-town All the President’s Men (All the Mayor’s Men?), complete with its own “Deep Throat”, Chase the Ace follows Charlie King, a budding radio D.J. who lost his high-profile job in the city under embarrassing circumstances.
He finds a home in Port Belette as the manager of a very small radio station after the untimely death of its long-time manager.
All is well, if a bit weird, in Port Belette. Crawford introduces the audience to an eclectic cast of characters, many of whom could be found in any small southwestern Ontario town as King tries to gain his footing in a new job with completely new surroundings.
However, when the COVID-19 pandemic strikes just days into King’s contract, the world is turned upside down and he, along with everyone else in the town, has to navigate the early days of the new normal.
Amid the stack of unpaid bills at the radio station and working to avoid dead air, despite using “pre-historic” equipment, King’s quest to investigate a rampant outbreak of COVID-19 at the local long-term care home brings him to some unanticipated - and intriguing - dead ends. From there, he begins taking a closer look at the home, the municipal council and the Chase the Ace progressive draw that has been initiated to raise money for the home, despite being the one who broadcasts it via the radio station.
What follows is chock-full of the kind of humour audiences have come to expect from Crawford, thanks to his hit productions of Stag and Doe, The Birds and the Bees, The New Canadian Curling Club and Bed and Breakfast. This is achieved, in part, by Crawford’s performance in what is his first one-man play.
Crawford is no stranger to portraying a host of characters on stage, as evidenced by Bed and Breakfast, which he has historically performed with his real-life partner Paul Dunn at theatres like Toronto’s Soulpepper and the Blyth Festival. That production featured just the two men on stage, but playing over a dozen characters over the course of the play.
Crawford is excellent when it comes to establishing demarcation between characters, whether it be through positioning, mannerisms or voices. He worked extensively with veteran director Miles Potter, with whom he’s worked several times before, on this to ensure that the play was as clear and straightforward as possible for audience members.
The diversity among characters is also astounding. Whether it be his high-pitched co-worker, an intimidating mayor, a diminutive councillor, his overly-friendly landlord or any other of the people Crawford portrays, he gives them all a clear personality, despite being just one man on stage with a table and a chair.
And while the play is full of laughs, Crawford, in an interview with The Citizen, said he hoped to strike a more serious chord with the show, highlighting the importance of the truth. In recent years, and certainly as the COVID-19 pandemic has taken hold, many have aimed to blur the lines of truth, he said, so he wanted to provide some commentary on the truth and its sustained importance in today’s society.
Crawford worked to incorporate the COVID-19 pandemic into Chase the Ace, but was sure to make it simply a character in the play, rather than crafting a “pandemic play” for the Blyth Festival’s Harvest Stage. This is a welcome balancing act, folding in enough shared pandemic experiences to generate laughs, but not so much that audience members were left feeling as if they were reliving the past year-and-a-half.
The set is sparse and simple, but it gives Crawford everything he needs, using his physical presence to communicate everything the audience needs to know.
Crawford provides another welcome, familiar face for Festival audiences as the world eases back into live theatre. The show’s entire two-week run has been sold out for weeks and it’s easy to see why. After several successful productions of the play across Ontario, Festival audiences were keen to see Crawford on stage again and he delivered for them.
Chase the Ace’s sold-out run, which includes added shows, concludes on Sunday, Sept. 19.