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Shameless Hussies

Review by Sean McQuaid

Shameless Hussies isn't a play-not yet, anyway. It is, however, a play-in-progress, and January 14 saw a relatively early draft of the script presented at the Arts Guild in a staged reading, one of the latest in a series of Playwright's Cabaret presentations produced by TheatrePEI.

If I can slip into first person for a moment, I may as well be open about the fact that I sit on the TPEI board of directors-though I haven't had any hands-on involvement in the Cabaret project to date; but even if I'd never heard of TPEI, I'd still think these cabarets are a wonderful idea. As someone who's done some theatrical writing, I know how invaluable it is to try out new material on an honest-to-gosh audience and see how they react-this is some of the most telling and useful feedback a playwright will ever get. As for the audience, they get the fun of taking a behind-the-scenes peek at a creative work in its early stages, and they even have the opportunity to help shape the work's completion (feedback forms are made available to the audience at the show's end). Everybody wins.

The Cabaret's latest play-in-progress, Shameless Hussies is written by Kathleen Hamilton, with collaborative contributions by Gill Mahen and Bonnie MacEachern. The play tells the story of Clarise, Claire and Sushi, three friends who have drifted apart. These three women are also facing a variety of crossroads and crises in their respective lives, so God lends a helping hand by sending the gals three unlikely guardian angels: shady ladies Veronica Franco, Anais Nin and Mae West, a trio of long-dead "shameless hussies" who share little in common apart from loose morals, lusty appetites and strong-willed, forceful personalities.

It's a fun show so far (the staged reading covers the then-current version of Act One and a chunk of Act Two). The ladies and their angels are likable, lively personalities-somewhat broadly drawn, though they seldom teeter too precariously on the brink between character and caricature. God is portrayed as a benevolent, good-natured, no-nonsense sort who spends her spare time surfing the Internet. The script is often funny, which seems to be the audience consensus judging by all the laughter during the staged reading. Some of the gags are obvious, and there are a few old jokes you may have heard before, but even those seem to go over well.

Hamilton, MacEachern and Mahen have worked together before in local theatre groups such as ACT and Theatreworks, and they seem to be having fun with this latest project. The three collaborators pull double duty (or triple, depending on how you're counting) in the staged reading, playing the three friends and all three guardian angels. As the three friends, Hamilton and company convey a very genuine sense of familiarity and camaraderie among themselves; however, the three actors seem to especially relish playing the "shameless" guardian angels. Hamilton does a gleefully shameless Mae West with gusto, while MacEachern and the usually subdued Mahen give some of their warmest, most substantial performances to date as Veronica and Anais.

On the lighter side, supporting actors Mae Ames and Rob MacLean steal several scenes in their roles as God and a radio announcer with all the sincerity of an aluminum Christmas tree, respectively.

Shameless Hussies is shaping up to be a good play; and if the packed house it played to is any indication, TPEI's Playwright's Cabaret should be introducing more promising new plays to Island audiences for some time to come.

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