Day two of crowded theatre week here in Ottawa, and that makes your friendly neighbourhood Visitor a happy blogger (yes, I’m still re-reading old SPIDER-MAN comix, why do you ask?). Today brings me back to good old Algonquin College where, after perilously navigating their adjoining strip mall, which was designed with shocking contempt for the lives of puny pedestrians such as myself, it was time for a good old-fashioned double bill!
Yes, the ‘Gonq is starting their season off Fringe-stylee with a pair of shows from playwrite Chris Durang, who I can only assume is an utter and delightful madman based on the two plays presented here, THE ACTOR’S NIGHTMARE and ‘DENTITY CRISIS. Both directed by the always impressive Mary Ellis, and featuring some of the school’s cool crop of up’n’comers, the nite started off with NIGHTMARE, and an elegantly dressed set from designer Judy deBoer. The story of George (or maybe Stanley) Spelvin, an accountant who finds himself suddenly hurled into a staged performance of a Noel Coward/Shakespeare play he has never rehearsed and is utterly unprepared for. After a baffling costume change, he is thrust into the play with several unforgiving scenemates (Robin Thomas, Lizzie Franklin and Aidan Reed, vacillating between different roles) and an equally harsh stage manager (Patti Vopni, also the show’s actual AD, a rather canny bit of casting). Madness ensues, along with several sudden shifts in tone and setting, leaving poor George wondering just why he didn’t join the monastery after high school AFTER all.
It’s a beautifully done bit of hilarity, with great supporting work…Lizzie Franklin does great scene-stealing as an oddball in a trash can, and Aidan Reed has one of the best entrances you could hope for. But it’s Alain Chauvin (recently seen in Red.Collective’s great LARAMIE PROJECT) as hapless, helpless George who makes the show, and he absolutely NAILS it. He manages to balance funny, endearing and tragic with a juggler’s skill, delivering the most insane mashup of classic theatre lines ever uttered in a play. You’ll never be angry at an actor for yelling ‘LINE!’ again.
Aeter the intermission, and some of the bloody amazing treats they sell at the box office (have the pudding and cream cheese ones, they’re to DIE for), it was back in for ‘DENTITY. Now this one, I was a little intrigued by, as I’ve already seen a version of it at the Ottawa Fringe Festival, starring the likes of Mike Showler and smooth Tim Oberholzer, so I had something to compare this one too. I liked immediately the pop-art set they went with, hanging rhino head and all. Lizzie Franklin and Robin Thomas returned from the first show, as Jane (Franklin), dour and suicidal daughter of Edith (Thomas), a high-pitched tornado of a suburban stereotype, who claims to be the inventor of cheese. Something is sharply off from the get-go in this bizarre play, which kicks into high gear with the arrival of Aaron Lajeunesse as Edith’s Son/Father/Husband/Lover/it’s hard to explain. Add to the mix Jane’s psychologist Mr.Summers (Bubba Vien) and his wife (Tasha Montgomery), who are shockingly interchangeable…at least, that’s how it seems to poor Jane, growing more and more unhinged by the moment.
The show was set to eleven on the camp-o-meter, and it was a fine choice. Robin Thomas made the scenery her bitch as the ever-unpredictable Mrs.Fromage, and Aaron Lajeunesse impressed quite a bit, switching swiftly and convincingly between personas young and old. And wee Lizzie Franklin charmed as tragically disturbed Jane…there’s a LOT of talent to watch out for on the stage here at Algonquin, folks. I was mightily pleased, and this is a VERY strong start to their season. It was a great, near-full house…I’m very glad that all the folks who were bemoaning that their were too many shows being scheduled at the same time (and, make no mistake, I was one of those schmoes too) seem to be learning a lesson. Put it on, make it good…and they will come. Or at least, that’s how I choose to see it today. I’m in a good mood, on account of a great night at the theatre. Thanks, ‘Gonquins…I’ll see ya in March, for THEATRE OF THE FILM NOIR! Until then, peace, love and soul,
The Visitor (and Winston)