Till it Hurts
Review by Katie Rankin
We’d all like to think we’ve made a difference, that our lives have meant something, that we’ve changed someone or something for the better. That’s probably one of the reasons why people give to charities. It’s a way to feel confident that their contribution as affected positive change in the world. In Douglas Bowie’s comedy Till it Hurts at Victoria Playhouse, an encounter with a telemarketer from the Stephen Lewis Foundation forces one man to examine the footprints he’s left behind.
The play centers around Seymour Mann, played by Erskine Smith, a cantankerous English professor who spends his time eating take-out food and having nightmares about an upcoming speech he must give at a university function. Smith didn’t originally play the main role, but a cast change a few weeks ago forced him to jump into it. Despite discreetly carrying a script for most of the play, Smith seemed confident, only glancing at it for cues. His delivery and timing were perfect. The morose and overly-dramatic way in which Seymour handles stress (he’s always convinced he must be dead because he can’t find a pulse) was the highlight of the play.
Seymour can’t seem to catch a break. From his computer getting fried to never-ending phone calls, everything gets more complicated when a jilted telemarketer named Esme (Kathleen Hamilton), who got fired from the Stephen Lewis Foundation for calling him an asshole over the phone, tracks him down. She wants revenge, he just wants to get rid of her. This lonely hermit who’s pushed everyone in his life away is now surrounded by people he barely knows who won’t leave him alone.
Also joining stressed Seymour is the equally tense if not more wound-up Amber Moon, played by Breanna Moore. A former Tim Hortons worker, now coordinator in the university advancement office, she has to make sure Seymour makes it to the speech in one piece. Moore is excellent, constantly smoothing her ponytail, straightening her pencil skirt and laughing much too hard at Seymour’s stupid jokes, all the time praying he’ll finish the speech and iron his shirt.
Almost the entire play takes place in Seymour’s quintessentially-academic living room. Books are stacked high, take-out boxes are stacked even higher and a framed portrait of Shakespeare hangs on the wall centre stage. The set is unique in that Seymour’s bookshelves pull open, allowing mini-scenes, like conversations on the other end of the phone line, to take place. This also allows for celebrity “cameos” by Stephen Lewis (Mark Fraser) and Bono, pointing out the Hollywood pretension that can so often accompany charity.
Despite the great rhythm between cast members, the play’s conclusion felt a bit rushed. The tone of the play shifted too quickly, suddenly losing it’s silly feeling. However, a great moment of ad-libbing took place in these serious moments when Seymour’s estranged son (Mark Fraser) tried to leave in a huff, after disapproving of his father’s contribution to the Stephen Lewis Foundation and the set’s door wouldn’t open. Looking at his father in disgust he said, “Fix your door” and walked around the set. In the end when Seymour finally, quite literally leaves footprints we know we all make a difference, even in the smallest ways.