It is, I think, safe to say that John P.Kelly is on a roll. The founder and pretty much exclusive director of productions at Ottawa’s great Seven Thirty theatre company has been having a solid string of hits the last few months. Two Marie Jones penned-plays, STONES IN HIS POCKETS and FLY ME TO THE MOON, packed houses at the Gladstone and the GCTC last season, and Todd Duckworth was just nominated for a Prix Rideau Award for his role as the president in the Kelly-helmed NOVEMBER from David Mamet. And yes, he does seem to be inching ever-so-slightly away from the Irish only theme his company had been maintaining since its inception, although with the latest going up at the Gladstone, we’ve only moved as far as Britain.
The show is Alan Ayckbourn’s ABSURD PERSON SINGULAR, a threefold farce featuring a trio of British couples meeting up over the course of three Xmas’es (well, four couples, if you count the never-seen Potters, ever causing mischief just offstage). We begin in the simple home of the Hopforths…up and coming businessman Sidney (Stewart Matthews) has invited a few bigshots over to try and curry favour, and has dedicated wife and homemaker Jane (Melanie Karin, who totally wants to be your Next Muchmusic VJ so go and vote) making everything perfect for the party. This being a farce, disaster naturally ensues, and Hopforth’s guests are beginning to notice. Bank manager Ronald Brewster-Wright (Tom Charlebois) is trying to keep his wife Marion (Lori Jean Hodge) from drinking too much, and architect Geoff Jackson (David Whitely, who coincidentally enough designed the stunning trifold set in real life) is looking for any opportunity to cheat on his unfortunate wife Eva (Michelle leBlanc). Chips are spilled, doors are slammed, and a good time is had by all…well, in the audience at any rate.
After an intermission, we’re back for a reunion of sorts on the following Xmas eve, this time at the Jackson home where things are less than conducive to a party atmosphere. Divorce is looming, Eva’s suicidal, and George the dog won’t stop growling. But damned if Sidney and Jane would let anything like that get in the way of a party, or at least some impromptu electrical and plumbing work. Don’t ask.
By the time the third ‘party’ rolls around the following year, we’re at the post Brewster-Wright homestead. Things have gone from bad to worse in everyone’s personal lives…almost. And it’s kind of impossible to talk about the scene without giving too much away, so hooray, I won’t! It’s enough to say that John Kelly has assembled a picture-perfect cast for Ayckbourn’s darkly tragic comedy, and laughing at the misery of strangers is seldom as entertaining. Stewart Matthews, the only genuine British accent in the cast, puts his impeccable physical comedy skills to good use as the hyper Sidney Hopforth, his constant refrain of ‘Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear’ echoing the threefold nature of the play itself (or maybe I’ve just been reading too much Robert Anton Wilson lately). Melanie Karin is adorable as uberhousewife Jane, cheering herself with a silly song as she cleans every surface in sight. I’d previously only seen Lori Jean Hodge as one of the three ‘Gladstone Sisters’, singing at the annual Radio Shows, so it was lovely seeing her now as the sharp-tongued, hard drinking Marion, never giving Tom Charlebois’ stuffed-shirted Ronald an even break.
But it’s the middle couple of the show, the Jacksons who really seem to have the most character growth of the bunch, and David Whitely and Michelle leBlanc handle it like bosses. LeBlanc, another Prix Rideau Award nominee this year for her boffo turn in HOW IT WORKS, especially impresses in a nearly silent second act performance. It’s awesome stuff, and the show rightly had the crowd roaring. Once again this season, I find myself contemplating a return trip to the Gladstone to see a show a second time. So hurry up and get your ticket (show runs until the 23rd), before someone else snaps it up. This one’s a winner all around. Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)