Yesterday was a day off from the drudgery, and a pretty sweet theatre day to boot. Had me a lovely afternoon visit to the GCTC to check out the media preview of THE NUMBER 14, premiering this Thursday night…it looks pretty spectacular, I must say. I booked some volunteer time for the run while I was there, and delivered cookies to the purtiest box office staff in the whole wide world (I know how to suck up to MY bosses…do you??). Then, after a poorly-thought-out pizza dinner which made me terrible logy, it was off to the market (on the number 14 bus, represent!) for my second theatrical stop of the day. And the third show in the Ottawa Little Theatre‘s epic 100th season.
Running a production from every decade of the company’s existence, the new show comes to us from 1919, courtesy of Winnie the Pooh creator (and, as it happens, prolific playwright) A.A.Milne. His comedy MR.PIM PASSES BY was first produced at the OLT back in ’22, and I suppose you have to admit it was about time for a remount. I collected myself a ticket from the lady miss Kiersten Hanly (speaking of purty box office staff..!) and sidled upstairs to the theatre, where the show was about to begin.
The titular Pim is a rather dotty gent, played with genial humour by Barry Caiger, who wanders innocently enough into the stodgy, comfortable home of the Marden clan and manages to upend their entire lives with a few carelessly placed words. Stuffy and traditional George (the always terrific Bob Hicks) likes his life as it is, you see, which is the same way his great-grandparents liked it too. This doesn’t always sit well with his whipsmart wife Olivia (Jenny Sheffield) or his progressive, chatty niece Dinah (Katie Norland). Dinah, it seems, is dead-set on marrying upstart painter Brian Strange (William Verreault Miner), but George strongly disapproves of Brian’s ‘futuristic nonsense’, which as good a term as any for abstract expressionism from the elder Marden’s POV. Into all this comes Pim, with a startling bit of news, quite idly dropped indeed, that may put George and Olivia’s marriage into question and threaten his comfortable country life. Lording over it all from a high horse indeed is Lady Marden (Jane Morris), George’s Aunt and a pleasant late addition to the gaggle of great imperious ladies we’ve seen on Ottawa stages this year.
PIM is a pretty delightful period comedy (that’s three in a row now from the OLT with full British accents…if they keep this up for STEEL MAGNOLIAS, I’ll be very impressed)…maybe not as fall-down funny as HAY FEVER, but with a keen underlying wit about it. Milne clearly had a few things to say about the concept of morality versus tradition, and he gets a lot of it off his chest in this one, in fine and funny fashion. The cast does great work on a coolly stylized Robin Riddihough set (kudos on working the name drop into the play, by the way guys). Katie Norland and William Milner make a likeable and energetic pair…I imagine Norland’s Dinah being best friends with Jenny David’s Dolly from YOU NEVER CAN TELL (In fact, somebody write that script!). Jenny Sheffield’s cheekily wise Olivia does marvellous onstage sparring with Bob Hicks’ George, a seemingly rigid stuffed shirt with a romantic heart beating just underneath (a little like the show itself). And as mentioned, Jane Morris stern Lady Marden is a scene-stealing joy. Director Joe O’Brien has put together a very heartfelt and enjoyable show, and I’m happy to say the centennial season at OLT continues to make good.
You’ve got until December 15th to catch this lively bit of period fun and support Ottawa’s longest running gang of theatre lovin’ fools. And buy a mug while you’re at it! Peace, love and soul,
The Visitor (and Winston)