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Left Reeling: Melski’s Halifax Debut of The Fly Fisher’s Companion

Written & Directed by Michael Melski

“This isn’t about acquisition, but apprehension, of beauty”

In the Director’s notes to The Fly Fisher’s Companion, award winning playwright, screenwriter, and film director Michael Melski describes his newest play as “not really written, but bequeathed as a gift” from his grandfather. In a similar act of artistic generosity, Melski offers his audience a calloused yet tender two-act production, allowing us too to consider ourselves in receipt of a profoundly resonant, theatrical gift.

Premiering at Ship’s Co. Theatre in 2005 and currently running at Neptune Theatre, The Fly Fishers Companion conjures a tradition of storytelling as entrenched in Cape Breton as the Margaree River itself. It is this tradition and its landscape that serve as the thematic fulcrum for a beautifully layered exploration of the endurance of friendship through the devastation of time and the possibilities of memory.

Featuring two lifelong friends on one last fly fishing trip, Don (John Dartt), an arthritic businessman who rediscovers and revitalizes himself in the waters, real and imagined, of the Margaree and Wes (Don Ritchie), a terminally ill writer with a child-like curiosity and open-mouthed admiration for life, The Fly Fisher’s Companion baits and hooks you from its first line. Whether reminiscing on boyhood highland adventures, salting old wounds, or bickering like an old married couple, Dartt and Ritchie give performances that are believable on a visceral level-- down to each wrinkle in every facial expression, every guttural word, each profound silence.

At moments the characters approach melodrama by soliloquizing amidst unnecessary musical accompaniment, but with the dexterity of any good fly fisherman, Melski just as soon releases us, undercutting these moments with that dry Caper’ wit that reminds us not to take life (or death) too seriously.

Fishing jokes and anecdotes abound in this play amidst tales of war, infidelity, and death. With the sport of ‘catch and release’ as the central metaphor, I was continuously reeled in by the rough elegance of Melski’s writing and the honesty of the relationship Dartt and Ritchie shared on stage. Like all truly successful works of art, The Fly Fisher’s Companion also left me to contemplate the heavy philosophical questions that linger beneath the surface of the performance like the salmon Don and Wes continued to chase their whole lives.

Featuring an intricate and elaborate set draped with the nostalgic minutiae reminiscent to anyone familiar with the trappings of an East Coast cottage, be sure to scour it before the dialogue begins, as you will find it quickly fade into the background.

The Fly Fisher’s Companion will continue to run at the Neptune Theatre in Halifax until May 15th. For tickets & information please visit

-Whitney Moran

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