‘The Year of the Hiker’ plays it safe

Published on April 8, 2013
A scene from Northern Lights Theatre Company’s “Year of the Hiker” by John B. Keane and directed by Peter McCormack Pictures from this year’s provincial drama festival.
— Photo by Winnie Healey/Submitted photo

“The Year of the Hiker,” by Irish playwright John B. Keane, was the Northern Lights Theatre Company’s choice of play for the Provincial Drama Festival in Happy Valley-Goose Bay this year. It was a safe choice, and the audience certainly seemed to like it, coming as it did on the heels of Edward Albee’s difficult “The Play About the Baby.”

“The Hiker” tells the story of a man who goes out for a pack of cigarettes and disappears for

20 years.

He comes back on the day of his youngest child’s wedding, and it soon becomes apparent that he is dying.  

In the course of the play, he asks the forgiveness of the children who barely remember him, and of his wife who remembers him all too well. He also has to come to terms with his sister-in-law, a spurned woman whom he blames for destroying his marriage.

The set, the kitchen of a farmhouse, was solidly built and beautifully appointed, right down to the pump at the sink and the fire in the hearth.

But there was never an Irish farmhouse kitchen of such a size, nor with such an enormous window. Perhaps a tighter set might have helped convey the claustrophobia that sent the Hiker on his travels for so many years.

The Irish setting could have been rural Main or the Ottawa Valley, but the players bravely decided to go with the Irish accents and they did them passably well.

All the performances were competent. Craig Robinson who played Joe, the oldest son who recovers fond memories of the father who deeply failed him, seems torn between anger and regret.  Ruth Simmons also gave a strong performance as Aunt Freda.

However, there were no surprises in this play and you could see the plot twists coming a mile ahead. Even the music that marked the segues between scenes was too bluntly obvious—“Prisoner of the Road” and similar songs.  

Despite the good set, competent cast, appropriate costumes and an enthusiastic audience, the play did not really lift off.

In fact, the most spontaneous and ardent response from the audience came when Aunt Freda took a fully-cooked and very real-looking roast turkey out of the oven to serve for dinner. When a turkey gets such an ovation, you know there’s something wrong with the script.

“The Year of the Hiker” was a pleasant play, pleasantly done, but it didn’t have the humour of “Unnecessary Farce,” it didn’t make you think like Albee’s “Play About the Baby,” it didn’t have the epic tragedy of “Unity” nor did it have the historic scope of “Judge Prowse Presiding.”

A company with the experience and capabilities of the Northern Lights players could have picked a play with more challenges and depth.

This might have been a bit risky, but it also might have allowed them to stretch their wings and show them to greater advantage.