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Dot and Ada Plan a Wedding!

A zany pair

Review by Chris McGarry

If you’re in the mood for a goofy, laugh-a-minute comedy, check this out.

Performed by
Sheryll O’Hanley (Dot), Claudette Anderson (Ada), Ian Byrne (Frank), Bethany Parkhouse (Molly), and Paul Hopkins (Josh)

Written and direction by
Jonah Anderson

Lighting by
Maureen O’Reilly 

The Show
They’re back! The hilarious duo Dot and Ada — who had audiences rolling in the aisles last summer with their crazy humor and antics in Dot and Ada’s Bucket List, find themselves venturing into the unknown territory of wedding planning. As expected, all manner of zany and outrageous misadventures ensue, including hiring an exotic dancer for Molly’s bachelorette party and finding a qualified minister. It’s another gorgeous P.E.I summer, and Dot’s granddaughter Molly is about to marry Josh, the love of her life. The wedding planner, a weird, extremely incompetent hippy/New Age type, fails to gain the approval of Dot and Ada, so the witty old ladies decide to do it themselves. There’s only one problem: they’ve never planned a wedding before. But have no fear. They’ll get the job done right.

The Performance
For two hours, the audience was treated to a finely-honed spectacle of pure comedic genius. The lifelong friends often bicker back and forth, but it’s all in good fun. Although there are brief hints of off-colour humor, the show is ridiculously facetious and amusing without being vulgar. The show’s other performers dig deep into their roles, almost having you believe that is who they actually are. Sets are basic but appropriate and truly enhance the overall performance. The characters have a strong rapport with one another and connect with the viewer. 

Best Thing 
Although every scene is uproariously funny, the ones in which Dot and Ada hire a stripper for the party and the encounter with the tree–hugging wedding planner are pure gold. 

Final Thoughts
Once again, Jonah Anderson has created a riotously entertaining performance worthy of only the strongest reviews. There is never a dull moment in Dot and Ada Plan a Wedding!, nor does one find any real flaws. The show is excellent from beginning to end and should not be missed. If you can only take in one play this summer, drive out to St. Peter’s Courthouse for an evening with Dot and Ada.

—On stage at St. Peter’s Courthouse Theatre to August 30. 

Zany contestants

25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Review by Chris McGarry

On July 15, an enthusiastic crowd gathered at the King’s Playhouse in Georgetown to watch The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a hilarious comedy production directed by Richard Haines.

The setting for the play is a nondescript small town that gives the viewer the feeling of being somewhere in the conservative American midwest. Six local kids are preparing to compete against each other to become the winner of the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The winner goes on to compete in the nationals in Washington.

The eclectic assemblage of zany contestants includes Leaf Coneybear (Jacob Hemphill) a social misfit with ADHD, Logainne Schwartzandgrunenierre or Schwartzy for short (Rebeccah Lambie), an LGBTQ activist, Marcy Park (Eden McFadden), a parochial school student who’s involved in all extracurricular activities, Chip Tolentino (Elijah Smith) a jock who isn’t a great speller, William Barfee (Alex Arsenault) a chubby kid with recurring health problems and Olive Ostrovsky (Helen Killorn) who loves her dictionary.

During the actual spelling bee, members of the audience were selected to go onstage with the contestants, which provided plenty of cheers and laughs. The judges, Rona Peretti (Samantha Elizabeth Bruce) and Douglas Panch (Adam Gauthier) who is also vice principal of the local school, read out some very complicated words to the contestants. Those who got them wrong are eliminated. Keeping order on the stage is the tough-as-nails Mitch Mahoney, played superbly by Ian Byrne. Mahoney, who wears a menacing 40-yard stare the entire time, is a convict doing his community service.

The stakes get increasingly higher as the participants from the audience and the actual contestants get eliminated one-by-one. Conflicts arise among the competitors, which enhances the overall story.

From beginning to end, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a delightfully funny crowd pleasing theatrical production. All of the stars truly shine in their roles. The acting is superlative and the audience really gets to know the characters quite well as the show goes on. Although all of the actors do an amazing job in the production, Leaf Coneybear, Logainne Schwartzandgrunenierre and Olive Ostrovsky are especially memorable. Also noteworthy is Vice Principal Douglas Panch, a stern, humourless individual whose bowtie and conservative plaid sweater makes him a throwback to another era.

The sets, which were designed by Randall Fletcher, are simple and straightforward and set the tone of the story perfectly. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is different from other live theatre comedy productions in that it emphasizes zany humor. The story is just an all-around good time with no serious undertones in it. The characters are larger-than-life if not a bit out of this world.

The humor is slightly off-colour at times but for the most part the play is for people of all ages to enjoy.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee plays until the end of August.

Hilarity of Everyday Life

The Dating Scheme

Review by Chris McGarry

Sally (Veronica Powell) and Peggy (Tanya MacCallum) try to console their best friend Sarah (Jeana MacIsaac) (photo: Chris McGarry)The night I attended the St. Peter’s Courthouse Theatre a large audience had gathered to watch the hilarious, well-acted production The Dating Scheme. The Dating Scheme, directed by Jonah Anderson, is the story of sisters Peggy (Tanya MacCallum) and Sally (Veronica Powell) who learn that their best friend Sarah (Jeana MacIsaac) has just broken up from a committed relationship and is very distraught. One morning, Sarah comes over to the sisters’ house upset and crying erratically. To cheer Sarah up, Peggy and Sally make it known that their brother Tom, who lives away, has a crush on her. He’s set to come home on vacation and the sisters make plans to set Sarah and Tom up on a blind date.

Then Tom (Matthew MacInnis) calls at the last minute with some not-so-wonderful news: due to an emergency at work, he is forced to cancel his flight. Meanwhile, the generally happy-go-lucky Sarah, who frequently runs and lifts weights, is all excited about going on a date with him. All of a sudden Peggy and Sally find themselves in a quite a bit of a bind. They cannot tell Sarah the truth so first they decide to create a diversion. Then they devise, a zany harebrained scheme to find a replacement for Tom which produced side-splitting laughter from the audience. The story culminates in a hilarious, pleasing perhaps a little surprising ending.

The Dating Scheme is an easily relatable comedy that plays with the hilarity of everyday life. It’s an amusing, heartfelt tale of that lengths some people will go to in order to help their friends. Not to give the plot away, but as might be expected, the sisters’ outrageous plot to find a last-minute replacement for Sarah backfires on them. Overall, the spine of this tale that is in some ways a commentary on the ups and downs of life, is very strong.

Jonah Anderson, playwright and director, wrote the script for The Dating Scheme. The characters themselves are unique in their own ways. Early on, the audience gets to know the serious, somewhat humourless Sally. In some respects, she is the polar opposite of Peggy, who is always joking around and has a clownish way about her. Sarah is usually happy though she can be dramatic at times as well. Tom is an extremely polite young man who dresses well and works hard at his job in the corporate world.

In the tradition of many of the productions put on at the historic St. Peter’s Courthouse Theatre, The Dating Scheme has a charming simplicity to it. The small cast of four truly relish their roles. Despite a few slightly off-color innuendos, The Dating Scheme is wonderful family entertainment that features plenty of laughs and great music throughout. Before summer’s end, make sure to take in this brilliant, easygoing comedy.

The Dating Scheme plays at the St. Peter’s Courthouse Theatre every Thursday until August 28. 

Finding the Island

Searching for Abegweit

Review by Chris McGarry

Searching for AbegweitOn a Monday evening in July, a capacity crowd gathered at the MacKenzie Theatre to watch Searching for Abegweit: The Island Songs and Stories of Lennie Gallant. In Searching for Abegweit, Juno-nominee Gallant, one of PEI’s favorite sons, weaves a superb, heartfelt narrative of the historical tales of our fair isle through story and song. Against a haunting background featuring the remarkable paintings of Rustico artist, Lennie’s sister, Karen Gallant and the beating of a drum, Gallant spoke to the audience about the origins of the word Abegweit, which the Mi’kmaq peoples called “Cradled on the Waves.” He talked about early French settlement on PEI, particularly in the Rustico area and also about his own Acadian roots. Gallant, who left home after high school to travel across Canada, sang an ode to his hometown entitled “Going Back to Rustico” while pictures of the picturesque fishing community were shown on the screen.

As the evening went on, Gallant, a master showman whose knowledge of Island culture and heritage is impeccable, told the audience, many of whom were visiting PEI, about the significance that the railroad once held for Island communities. He also talked about another remnant from our province’s past—the country store. But what was probably the most interesting story of the evening was Gallant’s retelling of the journey of Scottish settlers who, after a long arduous sea voyage, made their home in Lord Selkirk’s Land, now Belfast.

While a tartan flew prominently on the screen, Gallant, along with nephews Jonathan and Jeremy Gallant on piano and drums/percussion, Sean Kemp on violin and Caroline Bernard on accordion, sang a stirring rendition of what has become one of the famous artist’s most noteworthy songs, “Tales of the Phantom Ship.” A local legend claims that the subject of the song is a Scottish ship that went down in a gale, killing everyone aboard while another says it is a British war vessel cursed by an Acadian witch.

Watching Searching for Abegweit, one quickly becomes immersed in the rich cultural heritage that has forged Prince Edward Island’s uniqueness in the world. Gallant’s wonderfully crafted stories are interlaced with several of his popular hand-clapping, toe-happy lively numbers but also emotive songs such as “Peter’s Dream” and “Which Way Does the River Run.”

Every world-famous aspect of PEI is touched on in this amazing presentation; the Island’s red clay, clam digging, swimming in our beaches on a hot summer’s day, the often long, harsh winters we endure as well as the Island’s hockey culture, which Gallant pays homage to in “Has Anybody Seen My Skates?” There’s even a tribute to the Prohibition era on PEI in “Nellie J. Banks.” 

Through song, story, artwork, new and old black-and-white photos and video, Gallant emphasizes that throughout its storied history, PEI has always been a place of refuge; for the early Mi’kmaq, French, Scottish and Irish settlers to the Lebanese and people from all over the world who continue to make Abegweit their home to this day.

Searching for Abegweit, directed by Jac Gautreau, plays at The Mack until August 29.

A Genuine Treat

The Drowsy Chaperone

Review by Chris McGarry

On a Sunday in June, a capacity crowd gathered inside of the King’s Playhouse in Georgetown to watch Bob Martin and Don McKellar’s hilarious musical comedy The Drowsy Chaperone. The play is a show within a show; it begins with the Man in the Chair (Nicholas Whelan) telling the audience about his favorite 1920s musical, The Drowsy Chaperone. He’s a bit of a snarky individual who loves musical theatre mainly because the characters express their emotions through song.

Following the introduction, the audience found themselves in 1928, during the height of the rousing Roaring Twenties. Though illegal, liquor flows freely and wealth abounds. Janet Van De Graaff (Sherri-Lee Darrach), sexy, glamorous and rich, is the lead member of the group Feldzieg’s Follies. Janet is engaged to Robert Martin, an oil tycoon. The world-famous star’s producer/manager Feldzieg (Melvin Ford) is none too happy about this. His financial well-being depends on Janet continuing in her career. The guests at the wedding include aging hostess Mrs. Tottendale (Amanda Mullally), her servant Underling (Jamie Cordes), Best man George (Evan Getson) as well as staff/reporters, played by Claire Caseley Smith and Lisa Morrison.

On the day of the wedding, Janet’s goofy alcoholic chaperone (played marvellously by Toby Murphy) is tasked with keeping her away from Robert. Determined to make sure his star attraction doesn’t get married, Feldzieg plots to sabotage the wedding. He enlists the help of Adolpho (Jonah Anderson) a dashing though buffoonish Latin film star to seduce Janet. Adolpho goes into Janet’s suite where the chaperone, three sheets to the wind, is lounging about. He mistakes her for Janet. She plays along and allows Adolpho to “seduce” her.

Meanwhile, Janet walks around in the gardens where she meets a blindfolded Robert who is roller skating. She pretends to be a French girl named Mimi. Robert gets carried away by his emotions and kisses her. Janet gets angry and storms off because her fiancé has kissed a “strange French girl.” Kitty (Alexandra Durant) hopes to become Janet’s replacement on the Follies and tries to impress Feldzieg with her “gift” of mind-reading, which isn’t very good.

The Gangsters (Julia MacIver and Paul Hopkins) are furious with Feldzieg’s lack of success in cancelling the wedding and threaten him with a murderous “Toledo Surprise” if he doesn’t come through. Knowing full well he’s in a lot of danger, Feldzieg convinces the mobsters that they have musical talent and the “Toledo Surprise” is turned into a lively, upbeat dance number.

The story ends on a positive note [edited from this report to avoid spoiling].

The Drowsy Chaperone, which plays Wednesdays and Sundays to August 27, featured meticulously-acted, high-energy performances. It was a genuine treat from beginning to end. All of the actors truly got into their roles but it was the agoraphobic, critical Man in Chair and the sloppily drunk Chaperone that caused the audience to continually laugh throughout the performance. The musical numbers including Janet’s raunchy “Show Off” and “I Do, I Do in the Sky” were nothing short of brilliant. Dawn Sadoway, who has directed other productions at the King’s Playhouse, is to be congratulated for putting on such an enriching, thoroughly entertaining show.

Young Love

Boy Meets Girl

Review by Chris McGarry

On July 25, a decent-sized group of theatregoers congregated at St. Peter’s Courthouse Theatre to watch the touching, innocent love story Boy Meets Girl. In this tale, written by Sam Wolfson and directed by Alicia Atlass, we’re introduced to Sam (Adam MacGregor) and Katie (Sherri-Lee Darrach), two preschoolers who meet one day on the playground and quickly become fast friends.

Although the two stars act and talk like adults, all of the play’s dialogue is written from a child’s perspective. In what is very humorous at times, Adam and Sam discuss topics young children would such as playing with toys, travelling to Disneyland, parties, selling cookies and naptimes.

As Katie and Sam develop a closer bond, he decides he wants her to be his girlfriend. The fun-loving, slightly mischievous boy writes out a “standard contract” on a piece of paper in which Katie can check yes or no. She agrees and the two begin “going out.” Things move along fairly smoothly until the two children realize just how complicated relationships can be and come to the conclusion that it will get easier as they get older.

Boy Meets Girl is an overall unique production featuring lots of double entendre or hidden meanings in the dialogue. In one very funny scene that had the audience laughing heartily, Sam asks Katie point blank how many boys she has “napped with” as he truly believes that he is her first. When the young girl proclaims three plus him, he becomes very upset, which in turn causes more turmoil in the relationship. Though seemingly suggestive, nothing in the play was meant to be in any way racy or improper, just sweet and innocent.

At first glance, Boy Meets Girl appears to be a basic story about two little kids who “fall in love,” at least in their young minds. But as the production moves along, the audience members soon find themselves in the midst of a very serious story that has heartbreak, jealousy and even borderline infidelity.

MacGregor and Darrach, both veterans of the PEI theatre scene, displayed a strong chemistry together on stage with the utmost professionalism and fervour. The well-acted scenes were interspersed with lively musical performances by MacGregor and Darrach, who sang and played guitar on such songs as Elvis Presley’s Love Me Tender and the locally-written balled Island Boy, Island Girl, which had a genuine PEI folksy feel to it.

Boy Meets Girl doesn’t strive to be a boisterous laughfest nor an overly melodramatic theatre piece. Instead, it is a story as simple and relaxed as the Island itself, an entertaining account of the trials and tribulations of relationships as seen through the eyes of two ordinary five-year-olds.

Those looking for a night out for the whole family will truly enjoy watching Boy Meets Girl.

Boys Meets Girl played at the St. Peter’s Courthouse on August 1 and 8 and runs at Victoria Playhouse from August 15 to September. 30.

The Perfect Blend

From Debt to Death

Review by Chris McGarry

On a sultry July 7 evening, theatregoers packed into the King’s Playhouse in Georgetown to laugh their way through the outrageously facetious, slightly dark comedy production From Debt to Death.

In From Debt to Death, which could be described as an insightful though slightly exaggerated commentary on the financial strains suffered by numerous families in these uncertain economic times, we meet Samuel and Edna Newell (played superbly by Ian Bryne and Marisa Boudreault) a young PEI couple living in a tiny home and barely making ends meet. He’s unemployed and she works part-time in a restaurant.

The bills continue to pile until one day the Newells receive a terrifying notice in the mail—their home is about to be foreclosed on.

Always the quick thinker, the ever-optimistic Sam sits down with his sometimes pessimistic wife over coffee and comes up with a plan to raise the money they need by contacting their relatives from around the world.

After a series of uneventful calls to Edna’s cranky German uncle and her aunts in Newfoundland, England and New Jersey and to Sam’s relatives in Italy and Montreal, all of whom for one reason or another cannot lend the couple the badly needed cash, they begin to lose hope.

The next day, while visiting the local funeral parlor owned by Sam’s brother Joey (Paul Hopkins), Sam comes up with a harebrained scheme guaranteed to solve all their financial woes—he will fake his own death to collect the life insurance money.

But while planning one’s own death sounds good in theory, in reality it takes a heck of a lot of intricate planning—not to mention cash, which the Newells don’t have to begin with. While preparing for Sam’s “death,” he and Edna, who reluctantly goes along with the outlandish ploy, must stay one step ahead of an inquisitive life insurance agent (Claudette Anderson).

Through a series of hilarious obstacles (including Sam’s uproarious attempt at building a casket) and surprising plot twists, the play culminates with an unexpected ending that incited a thunderous applause from the audience.

Director Jonah Anderson, who at age 26 is already a veteran of the stage, has created in From Debt to Death an exceptionally unique, intelligent production with just the perfect blend of outrageously zany antics, slightly dark humour but also a strong dramatic element, as the audience cannot help but feel empathetic towards Sam and Edna’s plight.

Mr. Anderson is also to be commended for the play’s superlative dialogue and creating characters who are not merely one-dimensional, but draw the audience into their lives.

Boudreault and Bryne shone as the struggling young couple and Julie Haddow performed her roles as Edna’s aunts—one of whom has ties to the Sicilian mob—with the utmost vigour.

Also to be acclaimed for his multiple roles in the production is Nick Gaudet, whose most memorable characters were Sam’s goofy cousin from Montreal and Vinnie, the mafia guy.

From Debt to Death plays every Sunday at the King’s Playhouse until the end of August.

Small Town Secrets

You Can’t Get There From Here

Review by Chris McGarry

On July 3 a small though energetic crowd laughed their way through Pat Cook’s You Can’t Get There From Here, which debuted on the stage of the King’s Playhouse in Georgetown.

In this delightfully comedic romp, the audience finds themselves in the dull, backwards town of Shadow Falls. Arthur (Tristan Lewis), a big-city news reporter with a big-city attitude to match, gets stranded in Shadow Falls after his car is damaged driving over a huge pothole in the centre of the town’s main drag.

The young, intrepid reporter heads over to Mavis Garner’s Bed and Breakfast, which doubles as Shadow Falls’ administration offices. Arthur receives a rather cool reception from the artsy, somewhat peculiar Myrtle (Annie Bungay) and Liz (Toby Murphy), owner of the B&B, who has a very stern, bureaucratic approach to running the office.

So put off by his impolite treatment (particularly at being nickled and dimed) Arthur decides to write a story exposing small town corruption. At the same time, the gutsy journalist reveals his true reason for being in this backwater community: He’s searching for a famous writer named Lilith Mansfield who once lived in the town. She had been a Pulitzer Prize winner who disappeared without a trace six years earlier.

As luck would have it, Arthur’s car won’t be fixed until the next day and he is forced to spend the night at the B&B. The young man’s less-than-favorable impression of the town changes when he begins to fall for the sweet, perky Ann (Alex Durant) and gets to the know Queenie (Kate Haines), the inquisitive editor of the Shadow Falls Sun. Arthur has such a change of heart that he calls up his editor and tells him to pull the demeaning article about Shadow Falls.

This move prompts a surprise visit from Arthur’s incensed editor, Danny Van Damm (Dalton MacKenzie), a demanding, unforgiving boss who has the personality of a rattlesnake. Believing Arthur is hiding important information about the Mansfield case, Van Damm fires him on the spot. At that moment, the newspaper’s chief editor, Horace McClintock (Jamie Cordes) arrives and fires the nasty Van Damm. The story wraps up with quite a shocking though pleasing ending where the audience finds out who some of the characters truly are.

Taking everything into consideration, You Can’t Get There From Here is a fairly enjoyable theatregoing experience. All of the cast members performed their varied roles with the fullest vigour and heartiness.

The cast featured some familiar faces around the theatre including Toby Murphy, who is in her fourth summer with the King’s Players. You Can’t Get There From Here was directed by Amanda Mullally, who starred alongside Tristan Lewis in last summer’s charmingly sweet family comedy The Great Ice Cream Scheme.

Well-constructed sets added a genuine sense of realism to this most enjoyable production, which plays every Wednesday until the end of August.

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