Reviewed by James Karas
Vern Thiessen’s Bello is a moving, scary and entertaining play playing at the Young People’s Theatre in a fine production directed by Mieko Ouchi. You get two sources of entertainment: the audience of mostly seven-year olds and the performers of the play.
Thiessen weaves two stories into his play. The first is about a little boy named Bern whose parents die and he goes to live with an aunt and uncle who have a large family. They live on a farm before electricity or cars or telephones were discovered. The children have to walk five kilometers to school and they all have chores like watering the horses, milking the cows and feeding the chickens. Bern’s cousin Peter is nasty to him and he lives in fear.
Pictured (L-R): Gabriel Gagnon, Nicole St. Martin and Morgan Yamada; Production Design by Patrick Beagan
Photo by Ali Sultani.
On the way to school, they see an abandoned barn which is occupied by a mysterious person. Is it an old woman, a witch or what? She is very scary.
Three actors, Gabriel Gagnon, Nicole St. Martin and Morgan Yamada, represent all the characters in the play with consummate ability and speedy changes in roles. The actors are grownups but they manage to be convincing in all roles that they take on to the delight of the audience. Gagnon and Yamada play Bern and Peter respectively, the main characters, but they take other parts as well.
Bern gets lost in a blizzard on the way home from school and he runs into the mysterious and very scary person in the abandoned barn.
The play lasts about fifty minutes and it is done at a brisk pace perfectly apt for the youthful audience. The play is billed as being appropriate for ages 6 to 9 but I think that’s just a guideline.
Everything is done some sheets, several boxes and an active imagination. Patrick Beagan is the Production Designer.
The other source of entertainment, as I said, is the audience of youngsters who are following attentively and are instant theatre reviewers. No waiting for the end of the play for them. “That is funny,” “that is disgusting” and “that was weird” are just of the few comments that were shouted out for everyone to take heed of audience reactions.
Morgan Yamada, Nicole St. Martin and Gabriel Gagnon; Production Design by Patrick Beagan
Photo by Ali Sultani.
The story is touching with flashes of humour and of course a message about fear, intolerance and a mystery behind the person in the abandoned barn. We hear of Bello, a little boy after whom the play in named, we see reconciliation, tolerance and the establishment of order and the maturing of the young.
I had two Visiting Associate Reviewers with me and both gave the production very good reviews. Almost-8 Akeelah liked Bern best but Almost-6 Kiera preferred Peter. Even though Peter mistreated Bern, she felt that he deserved to be liked because he said “I’m sorry” to Bern. The only criticism was that the play was too short!
In other words, an all-around positive verdict for a very enjoyable albeit "short" afternoon at the theatre.