Secrets and Masks

Ding dang these new responsibilities and such at work, aka The Drudgery…this shit is interfering with my bloggery schedule but good!  So this post SHOULD have gone up a couple of days ago, but it’s all good.  Still early in the run and all that.  Could be worse, my laziness, is all I’m saying.  Go easy.

As it stands, all the exciting stuff took place a couple of days back in dear old Hintonburg, where the Great Canadian Theatre Company was gearing up to launch their brand new season, yay!  I got to the area early, partook of a little veggie nosh at The Table with a famous Actor, an award-winning Director, and the new playwright in residence at the GCTC…not too shabby, hey?  Then it was off to the Oiving Greenboig Theatre for the premiere that evening of Rick Chafe’s THE SECRET MASK, directed by Ann Hodges.  It was a packed house, and we were treated to a pretty fun opening night speech from incoming Artistic Director Eric Coates, who I kind of like already (although I reserve crush status for outgoing AD Lise Ann Johnson, thanks very much).  Then, in the shadow of a looming, deceptively simple-looking set from designner Karyn McCallum, the show (and the season) got underway.

Now, I’ll admit to being hesitant about this show going in.  I didn’t know the writer or director, and the subject matter…a family dramedy about an estranged Father and Son…didn’t exactly set my imagination ablaze.  I’m a simple comic book lad, you understand…I like things like dinosaurs, and spaceships, not relationshippy stuffs, dagnabbit!

Although DINOSAURS ON A SPACESHIP? Oddly disappointing.

It turns out I need not have worried.  The play centers around the budding relationship between stroke victim Ernie (Paul Rainville, as good as I’ve ever seen him, and that’s saying something) and  stressed-out George (a coolly understated Michael Mancini), the son Ernie walked out on 40 years earlier.  Suddenly thrust into the position of caring for the Father he never knew, George and Ernie both get put to the test, not just from the strain of their awkward position, but the crippling aftereffects of Ernie’s stroke, AND George’s slowly crumbling home life.  They are variously helped, hindered and occasionally upstaged by Kate Hurman in a variety of roles, but chiefly as Ernie’s determined caregiver Mae.  Between the three of them, the onstage dynamic never fails to be fresh and engaging.

The wonderful thing about this script is how ridiculously funny it is, which might not be what you’d expect from a play about a stroke victim and a manchild with abandonment issues.  But Rainville scores comic home-runs at a pretty rapid clip, every time without looking like he’s even trying (kind of the point, really).  Hurman, too, gets great laughs in some of her cheekier supporting roles, leaving Mancini as the show’s straight man, something he wears quite well.  The connection between Father and Son solidifies as they battle their mutual demons, and it ends up being damn near impossible not to be hopelessly drawn into caring about their story.

Paul Rainville, Michael Mancini and Kate Hurman in THE SECRET MASK, courtesy of photog Andrew Alexander.

A special shoutout to an often unsung hero of the GCTC who positively shines in this show, and that’s lighting wizard Jock Munro, who does top-notch work with the gorgeous effects on this show.  Trust me, you’ll notice, and you’ll like.  The whole show lasts just over two hours with an intermission, but it breezes by all too quickly.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, all that good jazz.  A mighty fine start to the season, and I’m looking forward to more.  Peace, love and soul,

The Visitor (and Winston)

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