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this town is small Critique Sessions

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Review by Fraser McCallum

"Single while male seeks woman to share life.” So begins Looking, an upbeat romantic comedy from prolific Canadian playwright Norm Foster staged this summer at Victoria Playhouse. Norm Foster’s comedies are known for their whimsy and user-friendliness, and have been staged eight times in Victoria. Looking is a light-hearted tale of ordinary folk on the lookout for love, acceptance and maybe someone who knows all the words to their favourite songs.

Directed by Victoria Playhouse Artistic Director Erskine Smith, Looking has a simple premise. Val (Laura Morgan) is an OR nurse who invites her cop-friend Nina (Alicia Altass) along on a blind date. Their eyebrows elevate instantly as the mystery date chooses a seedy watering hole called “The Private Dick” for their rendezvous. The date turns out to be neurotic storage salesman Andy (Tyler Kelly) who has brought his cocky pal Matt (Josh Byrne), a wistful disc jockey. “The correct term is broadcaster…,” he keeps asserting. Sparks fly instantly between Matt and Nina who quickly run off to get better acquainted at Nina’s pad. Meanwhile, Andy the hopeful bachelor, can only crack brutal jokes and drag timid Val to a Holy Trolls metal rock show (and not a Holly Cole concert as she had understood), where she gets hit in the head with a beer bottle. The two-act show follows this quirky foursome as they play relationship hid-and-go -seek, and each tries to uncover what they are really pining for.

Although a small cast, the synergy between them was excellent. All four created endearing and authentic personalities, with Altass particularly shining bright as headstrong cop Nina. Her role demands emotional peaks and valleys, which Altass delivers with poise. But her strong suit is her comic delivery. Dry and icy with just the right timing, it is reminiscent of the style of comedian Sarah Silverman and made many a merely “okay” joke hit big.

Kelly was hilarious as well as the helpless Andy. He’s that guy in every used car lot, mustachioed and decked out in too-high jeans and collared shirts that look like ironing-board covers. The audience instantly took to the loveable loser, and his performance harkens back to dozens of great, grinning fools on 22 Minutes and Kids In The Hall.

Set designer Scott MacConnell and his team created a vivid setting with three turntable pieces that revolve to provide six different locales. The attention to detail is impressive. The cheap and kitschy Private Dick bar whooshes around between scenes and suddenly becomes Nina’s ultra-hip, IKEA-inspired bachelor pad, and, as a theatre-goer, you truly believe the scene.

At times Looking lacks flavour, and during a few crucial plot developments the acting seemed uninspired. As well, the characters are all meant to be late thirty/early forty-somethings with salt and pepper hair for the men, and complaints about sagging this and that for the women. However, the cast are all in their mid-twenties, and, through no fault of their own, looked and moved much like their own real (unsagging) age.

The ending comes and goes as quickly as a mailman, and one is left wondering about Foster’s intentions. Foster’s material is light and digestible, but sometimes a bit too familiar and sit-com safe for this reviewer. That said, the creative team and performers should be applauded because their production of Looking delivers hearty laughs, and made for a good night out at the ever-charming Victoria Playhouse.

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