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Shameless Hussies

Review by Jane Ledwell

PEI is apparently not known for its shameless hussies-and if Anne of Green Gables figures in anybody's kinkier fantasies, I quite frankly don't want to hear about it. Is it any surprise that in Kathleen Hamilton's new original play three good Island girls get themselves into fixes that only imported, hussy-fied guardian angels can get them out of?

In Shameless Hussies three estranged best friends-uptight Mary Claire (Catherine MacDonald), flaky Sushi (Gill Mahen), and voluptuous Clarise (Kathleen Hamilton)-are reunited for emergency wedding planning. God (Mae Ames) wants to get them unestranged and to help prevent them from making grievous errors, so she sends them guardian angels in the forms of three of history's most shameless hussies-courtesan Veronica Frankel (also played by MacDonald), erotic writer Anaïs Nin (also played by Mahen), and actor Mae West (also played by Hamilton).

What follows is a confident, funny, and touching play about women's friendship and the value of good (or is that "bad"?) role models. The script is tight, the audience responses well-measured, and the performances sure.

The four leads are probably my four favourite Island actors, and I would pay to see them in soap commercials. Each of them has strong stage presence and a fundamental talent for projecting and sustaining character. In this play, because MacDonald, Mahen, and Hamilton all play two parallel characters, we have the chance to note and appreciate subtle shifts of gesture, mannerism, and voice (or not-so-subtle in the case of Mae West, whose persona is as unsubtle as they come). And Mae Ames is irresistible as an endearingly peevish, e-mail-happy God who delights in surprising us with expletives and unlikely angels.

Thank a Mae-Ames-type God that Kathleen Hamilton took Mae West's best advice: "Write your own material." Shameless Hussies is a refreshing take on Island life. Don't let it get around, but there are scenes that might have been taken verbatim from conversations I've had (or-umm-overheard, Mom). The women's talk during the pre-wedding pyjama party scene-the play's best-moves masterfully from humour to sadness without overstepping the bounds of either.

The play's not perfect. The Arts Guild stage's limitations make scene changes cumbersome, despite well-practised crew and well-planned scripting of intervals. The first act is a touch heavy on exposition, some of which could have been saved for the programme. Mary Claire's character suffers a clumsily quick onset of religion, and the postscript by God is anticlimactic and moralistic (although the temptation to give God the last word is perfectly forgivable).

But my criticisms are picky, picky, picky. I loved Shameless Hussies, and I'm definitely going to see it again. Possibly with my mother. Possibly wearing something short and clingy. Probably both. The play welcomes both possibilities, and that's an achievement in itself.

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