Feeling at home on the farm

Sally
Sally Cole
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Caroline (Amanda Leblanc) and Johnny (Cameron MacDuffee) take a drive through rural P.E.I. while performing White Trash in a scene from Dear Johnny Deere, now playing at The Mack in Charlottetown.

With his deep voice and uncanny resemblance to a certain country music legend, Cameron MacDuffee won the hearts of theatregoers last summer when he performed in Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash, at the Confederation Centre of the Arts.

So when he received a call from the Charlottetown Festival this spring saying he had landed the lead role in Dear Johnny Deere, he was thrilled.

“It’s a dream come true. I have a bit of history with this production. I was in the first workshop last winter. Then, when it premiered in Ontario last summer, I was asked to do the show. But I didn’t do it because I came here to do the Johnny Cash show.

“So, now they’re doing it here, I’m so excited because I am such a fan of the show,” says the Toronto-based actor who is performing in Dear Johnny Deere at The Mack in Charlottetown until Aug. 31.

For MacDuffee, it’s an opportunity to bring to life the music of another country legend — this time a Canadian.

“I’m a fan of Fred Eaglesmith and I’ve been one for a long time. I appreciate his music and writing and his unique ability to capture real life stories in such an insightful and humourous and sometimes irreverent way. He’s a remarkable songwriter,” says MacDuffee.

Eaglesmith’s backstory is equally remarkable. One of nine children, raised by a farming family in Southern Ontario, his musical start came early. As a teenager, he jumped on a train heading to Western Canada and started writing and performing songs.

With titles like White Trash, Freight Train, Spookin’ the Horses and White Rose, Eaglesmith’s themes include machines, trains, cars and engines, down and out characters, dogs and rural life.

Eaglesmith’s narrative songs are the perfect complement to the script, written by Ken Cameron, says MacDuffee.

“Ken manages to tell a real story about real people and do it in a really imaginative and creative way. But the music gives it more credibility somehow.

“It’s a really unique piece of theatre. As much as it is a musical, it’s a story that’s told with music,” he says.

Director Wade Lynch also feels strongly about the story about a Canadian husband and wife farming couple who find themselves, 25 years into their relationship, having a bad year.

“They are genuine characters and they’re certainly going to be recognized by Islanders, especially those in our Island farming community who will relate that their lives are controlled by weather, finance, markets and the neighbours. It’s a story about how people come together in a time of strife and overcome it with genuine love and humour.”

AT A GLANCE

Just the facts

What: Dear Johnny Deere

When: Until Aug. 31, 7:30 p.m.

Theatre: The Mack.

Plot: Fred Eaglesmith’s songs set the scene in rural Atlantic Canada where farmers Johnny and Caroline burn with a deep passion for both their changing community and for one another.

Tickets: For information, call 566-1267 or send an email to boxoffice@confederationcentre.com.

Organizations: Confederation Centre, The Mack

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Ontario, Southern Ontario Western Canada White Rose Atlantic Canada

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