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Culture Shock- Lorne Elliot

Review by Pan Wendt

Lorne Elliott’s long-running comedy, Culture Shock, hinges on a “stunned” young Newfounder’s trip to the mainland. Hilliard Philpott, played by Rory Lambert, finds himself in all sorts of predicaments because his total lack of understanding of big city goings-on, but he always emerges triumphant, in part because he’s honest and naïve, but in part because he turns out actually to be less stunned than he lets on. Much of the denouement takes place back in Newfoundland, as the fallout from Hilliard’s trip leads to all sorts of insane consequences.

Most of the play actually takes place in the rundown Philpott living room, with a tiny television set that serves as a link between Hilliard’s big adventure and a small Newfoundland town. The interaction between the three main characters, Hilliard, his father Mr. Philpott, played by Lorne Elliott, and Cyril, a moronic postman, played to perfection by Paul Broadbent, is pretty much the core of the comedy, much of which revolves around over-the-top misunderstandings in the grand sitcom tradition. Mr. Philpott is a complacent and self-serving Newf Archie Bunker, a mixture of know-it-all hypocritical crank and cunning schemer. And Elliott has him down to a tee.

The script relies heavily on rather hoary regional stereotypes, and a lot of the jokes are heavily telegraphed. There are a lot of obvious groaners: Hilliard thinking C.O.D. means cod, French Canadian prison escapees who try to translate Quebecois curse words into English, and Newfoundlanders generally acting as if they don’t know nothin’ about nothin’. But this is also one of the play’s chief charms. It relies on age-old formulas; we know what’s going to happen next, but we don’t care; the whole thing sinks comfortably into a kind of set piece mode, where the real pleasure is in the comic skills of the actors. The three players were total pros, with Elliott and Broadbent’s interplay probably the most consistently hilarious. For the first ten minutes, maybe, I was skeptical, and found the obviousness irritating, but I was quickly won over by the well-crafted entertainment on hand.

If I was to sum up this play, I’d say it was several episodes strung together of Newfoundland-themed Three’s Company, performed live by people with great timing and chemistry. And is that really such a bad thing?

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