Rosebud Theatre’s production of Tent Meeting by Morris Ertman and Ron Reed is about a lot of things. It’s about the power of gospel music, the way friendship and love brings people together and drives them apart, and the ways in which faith and religion influences our lives.
The play tells of George Hoveland (Declan O’Reilly) and his wife Dolly Hoveland (Seana-Lee Wood) and their relationship with Reverend Elroy Phillips (David Snider). Elroy left town a while ago and the drought in southern Alberta has made it quite difficult for George and his family. Elroy is back in town for the Church’s Tent Meeting and it brings up past hurts. Pool Hall owner Sam Lundquist (Jonathan Bruce) is good friends with George and tries to support him while he struggles with his marriage. The actors switch from their characters to members of Elroy’s singing troupe, made up of: Angus McPhee (Jonathan Bruce), Ben Reimer (Blair Young) and Bob Lefsrud (David Snider).
There are a couple of things about Tent Meeting that truly makes it shine. All of the sound design is created by the cast. The pool balls hitting each other and sinking in pockets, is created by Bruce with pool balls in his hands. The piano doubles as a vehicle. Mostly everything is sung a capella, or it has a piano accompaniment. The set design allows the cast to not be seen while they create sounds (like the buzzing mosquito sounds while in the tent). The entire cast has powerful voices and this truly carries the play. The music is glorious. Which is why the underlying narrative is flat in comparison. The story of George and his struggles in his marriage and religion doesn’t evoke as much emotion as the gospel sound. Dolly’s emotional responses often come off muted and flat. In the end everything is resolved with a neat little bow and it feels contrived.
The harmonies of the music of Tent Meeting are uplifting. The story and writing of that story could use a bit of work as the cast are their characters through and through. Their struggles come through, but they aren’t quite deep enough. But despite this, the play is innovative and packed with talent.
Rosebud Theatre’s production of Tent Meeting runs until August 28th. More information is available online.