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Tourist Trap

Review by Patrick Ledwell

The main question in my mind before seeing Lorne Elliott's "Tourist Trap" at Victoria Playhouse was how well his comedy would survive the loss of its main weapon: Elliott himself. In his live shows and popular radio series, he marches himself into service as his own comedic cannon-fodder. The persona is a floppy-haired genius of misfortune, able to locate (and hyperbolically express) disaster from the most mundane of activities.

The plot of "The Tourist Trap" certainly recaptures this maladroit-in-distress sensibility, where the main character is more schemed against than scheming. The two-person play is set on Prince Edward Island, where the ne'er-do-well Bruno MacIntyre (Darren Keay) is maneuvering to rent out his father's ramshackle, swampfront cabin to unsuspecting visitors. Through a set of phone conversations, his meddlesome Aunt Tillie (Laurel Smyth) condemns the general disrepair of both the cabin and Bruno's character. Storm clouds begin to gather around the scheme when July bookings (and numerous wires) get crossed, leading to the coincidental check-in of a priggish ex-Islander and his tempestuous, sex-starved ex-wife (both present only in phone calls, voiced by Smyth).

In the play's opening monologue, Bruno delivers a standup gloss on Island real-estate adjectives, suggesting just how close to 'nowhere' properties called 'rural' and 'private' actually are. While the jokes work in rolling the audience toward the aisles, they do suggest the risk of the play becoming an exercise in I-Can't-Believe-It's-Not-Lorne. Sometimes, Keay's quicksilver comic ability makes him a hilarious doppelganger for his director, especially in a certain stiff-legged, flaccid-armed gait, like a reluctant marriage between various items from a broom closet.

But both Keay as performer, and Elliott as writer/director, have amusements more satisfying than mimicry here. While Keay doesn't have Elliott's mug, bioengineered for registering gripes with the universe, he has a true gift for physical comedy, and he uses his body unreservedly in railing against his circumstances. His reenactment of getting his head knocked about, while simultaneously recounting the motives for its being knocked, has all the unbridled energy and lunatic fringe of an early Jim Carrey. His pantomimed retelling of an amourous encounter, meant to unnerve his aunt over speakerphone, is bound to leave theatergoers with an expanded definition of what phone sex means.

Keay's physical performance is even more impressive considering that the entire play is conducted as a set of phone calls to and from him. The phone is an unlikely vehicle for theatre, as it ties up hands and doesn't allow the faces of both conversants to be seen. But both performers make a virtue of these necessities. Laurel Smyth exploits her off-stage presence to transmute into three different characters, shifting voices from an indignant anglophile to a stream-of-consciousness divorcee without missing a beat. But she is at her sharpest as the tart-tongued Aunt Tillie, capturing that peculiar Island talent for cutting someone to ribbons before they know they're bleeding. Her phone repartees with Bruno, where he can neither stand to listen or hang up, are infused with the theme that family is not just a word, but a sentence.

By the climax of the performance, when Bruno spins his yarn about trying to escape through a narrow floorboard, and Tillie suggests that he might as well charge for hearing it 'because people are laughing at him anyway,' we're not looking for Elliott the character anywhere. He has left the stage (if not the building) for the director's chair, and from there, he gives the performers the latitude to play new variations on his comic themes. "Tourist Trap" is artfully constructed and survives the trip to stage in full trim: we're still laughing at him anyway.

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