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Dog Days of Summer


Review by Jonathan Stewart

Sylvia begins as the story of a man and his dog and progresses into a comedic reflection on change, marriage, and middle aged life. The play opens with Greg (Erskine Smith), a middle class/middle aged New York office worker, bringing a stray dog home. The stray is Sylvia (Mia Ingimundson) and Greg has no idea what changes his pet will bring. There is an instant connection between them; Greg and Sylvia chat and converse and dream together as soon as the show begins. The funniest bits of the show come from exchanges like this. The play's characters interact and converse with Sylvia but she is still very much a canine.

Greg's wife Kate is less then happy with Greg returning with a new pet and this apprehension about Sylvia grows in Kate. Sylvia becomes the answer to all of Greg's problems: he skips work to be with her, talks of her constantly, showers affection on his pet in a way he never did on his wife. Kate becomes more miserable as Greg and Sylvia become closer. A lesser play would use Kate as just a comic foil; here Kate is fully rounded and sympathetic character. The play's dramatic tension comes from Kate's realization that Sylvia won't work in her life-she will have to separate her from Greg. Often the most frantic of Sylvia's clever humour comes from the scenes with Josh Weale; who plays three different characters throughout: a dog owner who Greg meets at the park, an old friend of Kate's, and a marriage counselor who is trying to heal the rift the pet has made between Greg and Kate.

The humour is quick and smart and never makes a gimmick of the speaking mutt. The jokes sometimes involve some pretty strong language but it does not come out in a vulgar context. The performances are spot on-the ease and comfort that the cast banters with is admirable. The only major problem of the show is that the second act often retreads much of the material present in the first. One watches thinking that the characters have had these same arguments and insights already. In total Sylvia is another sly and funny show from the Victoria Playhouse-don't throw this show to the dogs.

The Origins of Comedy

Barn Agin!

Review by Jonathan Stewart

Don Harron and Catherine McKinnon's Barn Agin is an evening well spent reacquainting one with what comedy was and should be. The revue is comprised of monologues and skits performed by Don Harron with musical segments presented by Catherine McKinnon.

Don Harron's career has ranged from Stratford to Hee Haw and in Barn Agin he fulfills his reputation as a Canadian theatre legend. His comedy consists of monologues on a range of topics and transformations to other characters (most notably Charlie Farquharson, the character made famous by Hee Haw) and it relies on word play, timing, quick wit, suggestions of lewdness and gentle social satire to elicit laughs. It's comedy with brains and heart.

Mr. Harron's opening monologue has a segment on the wit of Winston Churchill and contains a gentle send up of Canadian conservative politicians like Mike Harris and Ralph Klein. The familiar routine Mr. Harron does with his Charlie Farquharson is to have the character (a well-meaning but clueless country bumpkin) discourse on a detailed and complicated subject like Shakespeare or Colombus's discovery of America. Charlie mixes and confuses and interprets the subject producing a funny amalgam of fact and fancy. In Barn Agin Charlie gives a surprisingly profound monologue on the origins of the universe. Catherine McKinnon's voice is still pristine and powerful, the songs fall into a wide range and many have a jazzy bluesy feel. John Theodore is the pianist (and sometimes backup vocalist) and gives a rollicking good accompaniment to Catherine McKinnon, and he sometimes joins into the comedic goings-on.

The setting is intimate in the Carmody Comedy Barn-the theatre built by Don and Catherine for their summer shows. Both Don Harron and Catherine McKinnon interact with the audience and the tone of the show is laid back and informal. Sometimes the performers forget lines or lyrics and have to check their cheatsheets but this feels fine in the relaxed atmosphere of the Comedy Barn. The show is a little long and there could be more balance -both the music and comedy bits should be shorter and switch between each other with greater frequency. Barn Agin is a show everyone should see-a reminder of what "funny" is.

Playhouse Pranks

The Haunting of Reverend Hornsmith

Review by Jonathan Stewart

A dark and stormy night...a car carrying three young adults breaks down in the woods...they take shelter in a spooky abandoned cabin...the set up for many a horror movie and for the slapstick comedy of The Haunting of Reverend Hornsmith. It's horror movie loving Paula's (Carly Martin) birthday and she and her two friends Jasmine (Lisa Carmody) and Robert (Darcy Gorman) were driving to the birthday celebrations before before mentioned car break down and discovery of the cabin. Hippy dippy Jasmine can sense evil forces in the cabin and strange happenings start occurring. Is the cabin haunted? We soon meet David (Josh Weale) a friend of the three who is arranging the haunting of the cabin with Robert in a plot to give Paula a scary birthday thrill. But even David and Robert start seeing things that shouldn't be happening and hearing mysterious chain rattlings and ghostly voices.

The play is another example of the fun and manic comedy that the Victoria Playhouse is known for. It's the second play by Island director/actress/playwright Pam Stevenson and it is a credit to her growing body of work. Piano accompaniment for the evening is provided by Perry Neatby and the play is directed by Marlane O'Brien.

The cast give energetic and talented performances. Carly Martin is sharp in depiction of acid tongued Paula, Darcy Gorman is humorous as scheming Robert, Josh Weale shines as David and Lisa Carmody's portrayal of the out-of-it Jasmine is great. Ron Quenel's set is detailed and spooky in a fun way and the lighting, by James Clement and Jonathan Smith, is mood enhancing. The play gains quite a bit by the piano accompaniment of Perry Neatby.

Faults of The Haunting include too much arguing between the characters; they rarely speak to each other except to wildly disagree for many minutes. Also, the physical comedy does not reach interesting heights till near the end when David and Jasmine are possessed by spirits. Many of the jokes work, but a number don't-the audience sees the set up too quickly. However, these weaknesses are obscured by the sheer energy of the actors and the unapologetic fun of the script. Victoria Playhouse offers another enjoyable summer night.

Do the Rite Thing

Conjugal Rites

Review by Jonathan Stewart

Conjugal Rites is the new zany comedy playing in repertory at the Victoria Playhouse this summer. It's a frantic slapstick romp; the kind of fun theatre which Victoria is well known for. The plot follows the misadventures of two couples staying in adjoining rooms in a cheap hotel. Elaine (Norma Cameron) and David (Roddie Weatherbie) are celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary; while in the next room David's younger brother Stanley (Darcy Gorman) is experiencing his honey moon with his new bride the "ditzy" Jennifer (Annie VanEyk). The plot progresses as we discover David and Elaine's marriage is rocky while Stanley and Jennifer can't get enough of each other. Things start getting crazy when we discover Elaine has a secret, Jennifer is a marriage counselor, Stanley has a costume and David doesn't have a clue.

The performances by the actors are quite strong particularly Roddie Weatherbie who plays everything with an understated irony. Many Island actors have a huge and looming stage presence so Mr. Weatherbie's tempered but funny performance is refreshing. It also balances and plays nicely off of Darcy Gorman's energetic and physical acting. The only time it doesn't always work is when David is arguing with Elaine. Both of these characters give some scathing and sarcastic exchanges but Elaine comes off as shrewish while one just feels sorry for David because of his hang dog expression and quiet delivery. Miss VanEyk is also quite excellent switching between her character's polar opposites of ditzy excitement and marriage counselor know all. Other great things in this play include the hilarious act openings which feature the two couples enacting identical movement and dialogue in their separate rooms. The set and lighting are both extremely detailed and really do give the impression of a cheap hotel.

The only weak parts of the script are some extended dialogue on the meaning of relationships, which sometimes embrace too many clichés and slow the energy of the play. And the character of Elaine can seem moody and doesn't always have motivation for her lashing out at the other characters. Over all Conjugal Rites is a wonderful play and is the first script from Island actress and director Pam Stevenson. Hopefully we can look forward to many more.

Do I Know You?

Drill Queens

Review by Jonathan Stewart

The Drill Queens return for their fourth year of skit comedy at the Charlottetown Festival. Now numbering only two, the Queens present a whirlwind show of an hour and a half of new and classic sketches. Cynthia Dunsford and Laurie Murphy present a whole slew of characters that titillate and stimulate the audience. It is delightful to see the Charlottetown Festival present something that contains some risqué material-a nice contrast to the feel good vibrations of a certain hyperactive red haired ragamuffin. The Drill Queens put on a great show that is all the more impressive since it's only the two of them. At no time does the show lag or slow down as the performers change or get ready.

One of my favorite skits is where the Queens play two old biddies coming to see the show. I swear every play I have seen has had those two characters they perform in the audience. That is the best kind of comedy-when a comedian creates a persona and you nod and say, "Hey, Yeah, I know them." Another measure of good comedy is when one can make their audience squirm unpleasantly but laugh at the same time. The Queens accomplish this with the skits "The Dresser," "Male Itch" and "Totally In Tune." These involve a reverse strip tease, a Gold Bond commercial and a session of watching the Women's Television Network. Other stand out skits include the unbelievably funny "Anne and Emily" where the Island's favorite orphans square off and a dead-on impression of Confed' Centre's Executive Director Curtis Barlow.

The Studio Theatre (formerly the Lecture Theatre) is an awkward theatre venue since it's a mere square room, but the Drill Queens overcome this obstacle with effective lighting and good prop and costume use. This is a production where I can guarantee you will be laughing. And nodding while thinking "Hey, Yeah, I know that person."

A Heavenly Blend

Forever Plaid

Review by Jonathan Stewart

The Charlottetown Festival's production of Forever Plaid is everything a play can and should be. In a time when plays are getting more gimmicky, technical, and flashy to compete with Hollywood, Forever Plaid relies on talent and stage charisma to entertain. It's the story of Smudge (Christian Bellsmith), Sparky (Craig Evans), Frankie (Joe Levesque), and Jinx (Peter McCutcheon) known collectively as the vocal group Forever Plaid. The four were a smalltime band in the 1960s who, on the way to their big break (a performance in an airport lounge), were killed in a car accident. Now due to cosmic powers they have returned to perform the show they never got to do.

The majority of the show is music consisting of the pleasant harmonic music of the early 60s; not rock and roll but songs like "Catch a Falling Star" and "Love is a Many Splendored Thing." The four singers sound marvelous with their voices blending heavenly together. The accompaniment of piano and bass is excellent as well. It's difficult to get across just how entertaining this show is. The laughs are constant with many of the jokes being of a similar nature (base on the naivete and inexperience of the characters) but due to the actor's immense talent and the precise direction not a single gag falls flat. The movement and props are simple but used to the utmost. One of the most amazing numbers I've ever seen is when the four recreate the entire Ed Sullivan show.

The script explores the meaning of innocence and the end of innocence without ever losing its light touch. The characters never grew up and they were too busy singing to experience life. And they died too young to ever become disillusioned. The script does not say that at one time life was better and more pure as other nostalgia-themed plays seem to do. The characters do confront some of the more unpleasant parts of life; however, the attitude they present is more pure, and better. The dark side of living slides off of these characters like water from a duck's back.

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