At Play in the Dark
Review by Sean McQuaid
Island theatre mainstay ACT (A Community Theatre) and young indie theatre company Sheep-for-Wheat Productions joined forces this January for “At Play in the Dark,” a trio of one-act plays billed as edgy, adult fare.
The plays as staged largely fit that bill. There’s sex, violence and swearing, things perhaps too often equated with an “adult” label, but it’s leavened by intelligence, wit and restraint, so the end result mostly comes across as a smart, funny show done by and for grown-ups.
The evening starts off strong with The Worker by Walter Wykes, a darkly comic absurdist script directed by Mike Walker and stage managed by Nicole Doiron. A workaholic husband (Ben Rayner) and his weirdly maternal wife (Rebecca Ford) hash out their marital problems after the husband starts bringing work home with him.
Rayner is good as the exhausted, exasperated husband, sculpting a rodent-like figure of nastiness, pettiness and gnawing mortal dread, though a bit more pathos might have enriched his role.
Peter Grandy offers solid support as a sinister messenger, but the superlative scene-stealer of the play (and perhaps of the entire night) is Ford: her crazy-eyed, musical-voiced, ever-smiling wife is a chilling, charming treat from start to finish, and nicely embodies the script’s off-kilter tone of creepy comedy.
The Problem by A.R. Gurney, Jr. is the night’s second show, a somewhat lighter and slighter confection, but no less entertaining. Directed by Rob Reddin, it features another spousal duo, this one played by real-life husband and wife Richard and Marly Haines.
Gurney’s script treads much the same ground as an earlier one-act play, Harold Pinter’s The Lover, but injects enough sprightly social commentary to achieve its own flavour.
Story-wise it’s all one big conversation about the characters’ marriage, a relationship which proves to be both less and more perverse than it seems. Reddin sets a brisk, breezy tone, sustained largely by the deadpan delivery of Mr. & Mrs. Haines.
Alas, the night ends on a down note with The Other Five Percent by Bryan Goluboff, directed by Adam Gauthier. This tale of a late-night Manhattan street encounter between a young woman (Bethany Mayne) and two strange men (Greg Chandler and Devin MacKinnon) has plenty of atmospheric potential, but most of it fizzles.
Chandler seldom conveys the sense of genuine menace or intensity achieved by MacKinnon, costing the play a lot of its crackle; Mayne sometimes seems uncertain about how best to occupy her often-passive role; and a trigger-happy finale descends into unintended farce thanks to a laughably unconvincing cap gun.
Add it all up and The Other Five Percent is the most ambitious but least successful play of the night, though the other 66 percent of “At Play in the Dark” satisfies enough to make the whole event greater than the sum of its parts.