by Michael Oliver
For three successive nights, beginning February 20th, ACT (A Community Theatre) presented The Gondoliers at Confederation Centre. Well attended and appreciated, this was certainly the most ambitious Gilbert and Sullivan production mounted yet by this established local company of amateur performers. Terry Pratt directed the ensemble on the stage; Carl Mathis was the musical conductor. As a team, and each in his own way, they managed to achieve a generally smooth production that enabled members of the audience to concentrate upon the topsy-turvy story and the witty songs. At first the chorus seemed a little awkward and self-conscious, and this threatened to disrupt the pacing of the comedy before it even started. In its opening The Gondoliers requires great vivacity in both the singing and the dancing, but this certainly was missing in the ACT production, even in the game of blind man's bluff whereby the gondoliers Giuseppe and his best friend Marco catch and claim Tessa and Gianetta, the girls that they will marry. With the shifting of the scene, however, and the entrance of the Duke of Plaza-Toro and his entourage, the pace picked up and reached the proper comic tempo. All initial clumsiness soon vanished in the absurd dialogue in which Casilda, daughter of the Duke, and young Luiz, the Duke's manservant, vow undying love "but ten brief minutes since," for just that long ago she learned she had been married as a child and has been brought to Venice to reclaim her long-lost husband, heir to the throne of Barataria. After that, the only disappointment was the strange way Lisa Carmody as Tessa was apparently directed to employ her talented and lively voice to render "When A Merry Maiden Marries" much more like a dirge than like a nuptial hymn. Because this is the only song in the entire operetta that is truly lyrical, it seemed unfortunate to hear it sung so oddly. Stephanie McCormick as Gianetta and Emily Hanlin as Casilda also brought fine voices to their roles. But it was Caroline Hewson as the Dutchess who delivered "On The Day That I Was Wedded" with both personality and reticence who stole the show among the female singers. Similarly, Andrew Mann as Giuseppe, Claude Gavard as Marco, and Mark Ramsey as Luiz all sang quite well (though all were almost silenced in the presence of the women), but it was Ben Kinder as the Duke who sang with character as well as feeling and succeeded in conveying the capricious comic spirit of the operetta. In the end, though, it was Rene Hurtubise as the overbearing Grand Inquisitor of Barataria (and instigator of the plot) who took command of the performance. Speaking, even singing, with an elocution reminiscent of Olivier in his rare comic roles, Hurtubise played the part for maximum effect, but never once exaggerated the exaggerations of his character. The audience responded with its full attention to this tour de force. The set design by Woody White and Terry Pratt was basic, though its Tuscan columns and its bridges did approximate the world of Venice in the eighteenth century, while Brenda Porter's costuming was properly elaborate and colourful-the mis en scène relying more on people than on setting, as it must in amateur theatricals. ACT's production of The Gondoliers bestowed a touch of merriment on Charlottetown the same time winter started, slightly, to give way to spring, and this seemed fitting, in a topsy-turvy way.