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Airport Tales lands heart and nuance

“It’s Appel-GEE!” Here is a woman who has embraced going against the grain. Turning 90, Evalina Appelgy (Linda Gorham) sets the tone for the Garrison Little Theatre production of Carol Libman’s “Airport Tales.”
The nonagenarian Applegy is being delayed from her flight to Saskatoon by a young Pearson Airport bureaucrat named Roger (Eric Jeddry), who detains her because of a small snafu regarding her flight information. Beside “next of kin,” Evalina has entered “who cares?” So begins Evalina’s journey against her own isolation. Considering herself a free spirit, Evalina is forced to break down many of the walls she’s put up around herself on her trip.
“Airport Tales” is structured as a series of small vignettes surrounding Evalina’s trip back home, the sole point of each small encounter she has is to break down another wall she’s put up. Evalina presents herself as a free spirit – Gorham’s blue streak in her hair and her swaths of colourful clothing suggest someone who grew up in the hippy-era who lives with the same spirit of “not giving in to the man” and celebrating who they are – but “Airport Tales” suggest this has come at the cost. Living in Toronto has separated Evalina from her family in Saskatoon, and an inability to use technology – or, more likely, an indifference to picking up the phone – has only deepened the divide.
Yet Roger, the Pearson bureaucrat who detains Evalina, is first seen arguing over the phone with his father about his job. “I can’t just walk up and talk to him and say Hi,” he says of a higher-up at Pearson. His father clearly suggests that he could, though Roger is too caught up in the trappings of the propriety and hierarchy of his new job, he brushes his father off.
Carly, the U-Vic undergrad, becomes a surrogate granddaughter literally and figuratively after a chat about the differing viewpoints and problems facing each generation. After an encounter with a U-Vic professor (Trent Matthews) on the same connecting flight, the two perspectives are put to the test. Carly’s own free-spiritedness doesn’t find any threat in the professor offering to drop the student off at her dorm, while Evalina’s red flags are wildly going off. The two quibble like a real family might, and while in Saskatoon, Carly even calls up Evalina to chat. More walls breaking down and new connections are forged.
After the party for Evalina’s ninetieth, Fred approaches Evalina about being so far apart and not calling. Evalina worries that they’re going to ask her for money, but is surprised by the ulterior motive Fred presents her while waiting for her flight back. Another wall breaks down.
A play like this is dependent on the wonderful character work of its actors, and GLT delivers. Gorham is spunky and vibrant as the wisened, though somewhat assumptive, Evalina, who can dole out wisdom to the youth around her, just getting into the world, but isn’t so smug as to deride the advice they may offer back about the importance of forgiveness and openness to listening. Jeddry, like Roger, ably expresses a comic nervousness, and need to impress that anyone starting a new, important, job has on the first day and the defeat that can often come with it. Alex Pedersen as Carly captures that first year of college attitude – the need for sleep, the feigned disinterest in conversation that – surprise, surprise – can actually open up pretty quickly. Trent Matthews, as the U-Vic professor, effectively toes the line between accomplished, educated professional and his untoward motives so that we’re never sure if he means to act on some clearly voyeuristic intentions.
“Airport Tales” may lack the more slapstick Pythonesque humour or brash characters of some of GLTs previously selected plays, but it contains as much or more of the heart and nuance needed to broach the sometimes touchy subject of keeping in touch with family in modern days.
The play continues until Saturday, April 13 at the Italo-Canadian Club.