The summer theatre season is upon us once again and I’ve already been to Morrisburg’s Upper Canada Playhouse to catch Barefoot in the Park, directed by the one and only Donnie Bowes.

Donnie has been artistic director at professional UCP for at least 15 years, filling the seats season after season by delivering the brand of show most people want to see… the romantic comedy.

Barefoot is a classic example, well played by a stalwart cast including Melissa Morris who I’ve known for several years through her involvement as actor and music director for Prescott’s St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival where I’ve been on the board of directors for nine years. Melissa knocked the part of young newlywed Corie right out of the park, so to speak.

Also a professional company, the St. Lawrence season opens July 8 with Anthony & Cleopatra which will alternate with The Three Musketeers until Aug. 12, followed by The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Aug. 15-20. You’re right… Musketeers isn’t Shakespeare but it’s close, and we decided to expand our repertoire a bit.

I was also on the UCP board for six years and, I’ve got to say, I experienced a little flutter of excitement when I spotted my name on a new plaque in the playhouse recognizing directors past and present.

Combined with the professional Thousand Islands Playhouse in Gananoque, without even mentioning the many Ottawa options, we in Eastern Ontario are well served with summer theatrical options. There’s also a plethora of amateur companies, most of which are off for the summer.

However, one of my favourite companies is very much on this summer, Stone Fence Theatre which has been putting rural Renfrew County on the map by breathing new life into its historic characters and limitless eccentricities.

That’s one of the main attractions of Stone Fence: Almost everything it does is original and almost all of that is written, produced and musically directed by the same guy. As he has been for 15 years, the man behind – and in front of – Stone Fence is expat New Yorker Ish Theilheimer.

Stone Fence is a non-profit charity dedicated to regional, cultural, heritage and economic development. It takes its name from the stone fences that crisscross the county, “a testament to the years of backbreaking work done by the settlers who cleared the land.”

Its whimsical, down-home productions have gained a huge following and are often sold out. Not only are the shows deftly created and full of music, but they reach out and grab the audience with familiar situations, locations and characters.

In his latest foray into fictionalizing rural life, Ish puts veterinarians under the microscope, building a romantic musical comedy called Stick out Your Tongue and Say Moo – Making the Rounds with the Amorous Veterinarian. In getting to heart of the matter, Ish interviewed veterinarians and veterinary workers to learn about the ups and downs of their profession.

Opening at the Rankin Culture and Recreation Centre July 19, the show attempts to answer the question: “What happens when a young male vet from the city gets his first job in the Ottawa Valley and encounters lonely middle-aged farm women, skeptical farmers, resentful colleagues and a profession going through lots of changes?”

What happens is a lot of singing, dancing, kibitzing, and general tomfoolery. The show features 11 new songs that attempt to capture the hard work of vets, the pressure, the wacky clients and the sense of doing something important.

Although the details about modern veterinary practice and agriculture are based on interviews, the plot is pure fiction: “Young vet Robert finds himself repeatedly accosted by lonely clients, much to the annoyance of female colleagues, in a clinic that reflects the current trend of young women far outnumbering young men in the profession.”

Directed by Stone Fence stalwart Chantal Elie-Sernoskie, Say Moo includes a cast of faces familiar to audience regulars. There are several performances in Rankin, one in Barry’s Bay Aug. 10, more in September and October at the Eganville Community Centre, two in Pembroke in October, and a final show Oct. 29 at St. Andrew’s Parish Hall, Killaloe.

“I heard some very funny stories doing the research, and also very moving ones. It’s not an easy job; there’s a lot of pressure. I hope the show will strike a chord, especially with rural residents and pet owners everywhere.”

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