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L.A. Beat

Dear Johnny Deere explores farming issues through Fred Eaglesmith’s music

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New West Theatre brings the music of Canadian alt country/ folk icon Fred Eaglesmith to life at the Yates Theatre, MarchDoug MacArthur rehearses Dear Johnny Deere. Photo by Richard Amery 4-14.
 Calgary based playwright Ken Cameron got inspired to write Dear Johnny Deere which is the story of a farm family in danger of losing their farm.
“It’s about a farmer who is in danger of losing his farm and his wife,” summarized Kathy Zaborsky, who plays the wife Caroline and is co-musical director of the production with Scott Mezei.

“ I’m from Hamilton originally and Fred Eaglesmith used to play there a lot when I was young. He lives not too far away from there. And my brother has a farm near there too. So we have a connection to the Ontario farmer scene,” said Zaborsky.

“It takes place in Ontario, but we‘ve set it in Southern Alberta,” she said.

She is joined by Douglas MacArthur, who plays her husband, Johnny Deere, Andrew Legg and Justin Michael Carrier and musicians Scott Mezei and Keenan Pezderic.
“It’s about a farmer who copes with the loss of his family and his farm, but it is a story of redemption and legacy. But it is also his story of forgiveness, which is so important  in the world today,” she continued.
 She noted the music is pretty close to Eaglesmith’s originals.

“ We adapted it to the instruments we have, which the script encourage you do do. Ken (Cameron) is even coming down to see it,” she enthused, adding New West has put on  another Ken Cameron play, “Harvest,” in 2014, which was also about a farm couple, this time, who decide to retire, sell the farm and  rent the house to a young pilot.

Kathy Zaborsky rehearses Dear Johnny Deere. Photo by Richard Amery
“ Marek Czuma and Karen Johnson-Diamond were in it. But I was too young to be in it though,” she noted.

 Director Kelly Reay stepped in to direct  Dear Johnny Deere as well as the last University of Lethbridge production, though he hadn’t planned it that way. He took on the job upon Sharon Peat’s retirement.

“It’s a good play. It shines a nice spotlight on Fred Eaglesmith’s songs. Fred is a storyteller. Ken is  a Fredhead and created a compelling narrative inspired by Fred’s songs,” Reay said.

“ We’re excited to  offer a different kind of performances than we usually do like our music comedy revues and even our Canadian plays. And even other musicals like the Buddy Holly Story and “Million Dollar Quartet.”

” A lot happens in this play. There is a lot of conflict. But we can relate to these people,” he continued.
 He hopes the play will appeal to a different demographic.

“ There is a lot of agriculture and farming people who will will identify with this show.”
Dear Johnny Deere runs in the Yates theatre from March 4-14 at 7:30 p.m each night.

 For two tickets to the show, be the first  to e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it   and tell me the name of your favourite Fred Eaglesmith song.

Unfortunately the last four shows of the run have been cancelled due to Corona virus concerns. 

— by Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor
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