Testimonials – Harvest Moon Rising
Variety – by Richard Ouzounian
A simple piece about farm women in Canada, “Harvest Moon Rising” interweaves two stories: a contemporary one about a wife whose husband is losing their farm and a 19th-century tale of a young Scottish girl coming to grips with Canada’s bucolic life.
Arden brings her women (and the one man in the story) to life with surprisingly complex music and lyrics that have the skill of poetry while seeking to capture the rhythms of simple speech.
She can write wonderfully effective ensemble numbers such as “The Sun Never Quite Makes It Through,” about facing the dark times in life, and “Monday Morn,” which is the flip side of the coin: an upbeat look at the world.
Arden is best, perhaps, at solo numbers that plumb a character’s inner life, most notably the song “Robert Dreams,” in which a farm wife slowly and powerfully reveals the saga of her husband’s alcoholism and spousal abuse.
Tim French’s direction has a no-frills briskness that matches well with the open feelings he encourages his actors to convey.
Talk Is Free Theater is a tiny, low-budget operation, but artistic director Arkady Spivak is devoted to producing Canadian musicals and usually finds first-rate casts willing to do them. “Harvest Moon Rising” has attracted a group of veterans with impressive credentials from the Shaw and Stratford festivals as well as the world of Toronto megamusicals.
Glynis Ranney and Mike Nadajewski are singularly moving as the couple whose farm is about to be taken from them, while Jennifer Stewart brings a fetching charm to the displaced Scottish girl and Charlotte Moore offer a down-home solidity as the older Canadian woman who takes her in. Diane Stapley is beautifully controlled as Lillian, the senior of the group, and Stephanie Roth makes the most of “Robert Dreams,” her big number.
With a cast of six, a band of two, simple physical demands and a touching story with wide appeal, this show could prove popular at regionals throughout the American heartland. And it sparks anticipation for the next work from Arden.