Volume 12 Week 5

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(Posted 7:30 a.m., Dec. 4)
Vintage Stock Theatre's holiday production a wonderful gift
By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

The Vintage Stock Theatre production of 'A Long Way From Home' features Sarah Benfield as Annie Johnson and Randy Bellini as Rockcliffe Fellowes. Fred Sherwin/Photo

Susan Flemming has done it again. With her latest offering, “A Long Way From Home”, on this weekend in the Richcraft Theatre at the Shenkman Arts Centre, the Cumberland playwright and founder of Vintage Stock Theatre has come through with a brilliant piece of work that celebrates the life of a long forgotten matinee idol from Ottawa with reverence, compassion and a dash of wit.

Rockcliffe St. Patrick Fellowes was born in Ottawa on March 17, 1883 to an established family with a checkered history.

His grandfather, George Byron Lyon-Fellowes was jailed for ballot stuffing in the 1855 provincial election; and 21 years later was charged with 11 counts of electoral fraud when he successfully ran for mayor of Ottawa. As fate would have it, however, he ended up dying a couple of months later on the same day his trial was to begin. (Sounds like a play for another day.)

Fellowes, own father was a successful businessman and Rockvliffe was expected to follow in his footsteps. Instead, he ran away to join the theatre where he became a successful actor on Broadway.

His big breakthrough came when he was cast to play the leading role in the 1915 silent gangster film “Regeneration”. According to Fellowes’ New York Times bio, it remains one of the most revived and admired films of the 1910s. Although he would appear in 16 other feature films, both silent and talking, he never lived up to his leading man potential. The last film he appeared in was a western called “Rusty Rides Alone” which came out in 1933.

“A Long Way From Home” looks at Fellowes’ life five year’s removed from his film career until his death in 1950. He lives in a rooming house in L.A. where he edits and rewrites scripts while living on a diet of sardines, olives, crackers and martinis, and is often visited by a handful of fellow rooming house residents.

Sarah Benfield is joined by Dan Smythe (centre) and Victor Lachance in scene from 'A Long Way From Home'. Fred Sherwin/Photo

Annie Johnson is an aspiring actress with a thick Brooklyn accent who looks to Fellowes for coaching and advice. George Pembroke is another aspiting actor and writer. The other member of Fellowes inner circle is his agent, Guy Coburn.

The play unfolds over the course of seven scenes, all of which take place in his apartment. The first scene takes place shortly after Fellowes passing. Scenes two and three are flash backs to when Fellowes first meets Coburn. They cover the years 1938 and 1939.

The remaining scenes take place betweem 1944 and 1950. In Act 2 Scene 1, the audience is introduced to Lucile Watson, who Fellowes was briefly married to in the 1910s. Although she was born in Quebec, Watson also lived in Ottawa for a brief period, before pursuing a career on Broadway.

She would later move to Hollywood where she enjoyed a reasonably successful career as a character actress. The pinnacle of her career came in 1944 when she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Watch on the Rhine”.

In Flemming’s play, Watson comes calling on Fellowes on her way to the Academy Awards. She found his address in the telephone directory.

The two reminisce about the old days and it’s clear that there is still a connection between the two of them, even if the audience are the only one’s who see it.

Watson comes calling on Fellowes again five years later only this time she’s brought him a gift and its made clear that they both still have feelings for each other.

In the next to last scene, Coburn tells Fellowes that he’s found him a role that will revive his career. All he has to do is show up for the audition. Fellowes never does and the two old friends have a falling out. Fellowes dies two months later and Coburn feels guilty that the two of them never managed to patch things up.

The play ends with Johnson finding a letter that Fellowes had addressed to Coburn, but never mailed. One of the running themes during the play is that Fellowes never opens the letters he receives so he doesn’t have to answer them.

As I said at the beginning of my review, the play is wonderfully written, but it takes actors to bring even the best script to life and without question the cast in “A Long Way From Home” are amazing, starting with Randy Bellini, who plays Rockcliffe Fellowes.

Bellini’s most ambitious role in the past was R.B. Bennett in the Vintage Stock production. He was good in that, but he’s marvelous as Mr. Fellowes. As are Vintage Stock Theatre veterans Sarah Benfield who plays Annie Johnson and Victor Lachance who plays Guy Coburn. Another VST veteran, Dan Smythe plays George Pembroke and David Elliot plays Eddie Bowles, the son of another tennat in the rooming house.

Last by no means least, Ellen Manchee is terrific as well as Lucile Watson. especially in the her final scene with Bellini.

“A Long Way From Home” opens Tuesday, Dec. 30at 7:30 p.m. in the Richcraft Theatre at the Shenkman Arts Centre. Additional performances will take place on Tuesday, Dec. 30and Tuesday, Dec. 30at the same time. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for children.

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)

 

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