Cockails at Pam's
By Stewart Lemoine, directed by Brian VanNorman, till December 5, 1998
Cocktails at Pam's brilliantly funny play
Acting bears the stamp of director who knows what to ask for
By Jonathan Harrison
The absolute first thing that hits you when you look at the set of the Waterloo Stage Theatre when you go to see their brilliantly funny play, Cocktails at Pam's, written by Edmonton playwright Stewart Lemoine, directed by Brian VanNorman and running till Dec. 5, is the couch. No. More than that. The couch and the matching chair. OK. The couch, the matching chair and the two table lamps.
And the coctail bar.
OK, so you notice absolutely everything about Rick Klaver's set because it's all early '60s decor, OK, just like it was when Jackie Kennedy wore her hats and Sinatra wore his. You remember...the good years.
OK, so anyway you're in your seat waiting for the show to start but then when it does, it hasn't yet, because that's when the lounge singer comes out to entertain you. He and his pianist. The night I went (Friday) it was Derek Hines (the singer) and Ian Ring (the pianist) and they were super. They left after three numbers (there was a delightfully strong hint of Sammy Davis Jr. in one of them) and then the maid comes in to vacuum the carpet and get ready for the play...I mean to get ready for the cocktail party. At Pam's.
She (Tara Kent) weeps as she sweeps because work is totally beyond her.
She's no good at it. She drops things and is terribly embarrassed about her own incompetency.
Julius (played by Frank Neary), the husband of the house, I mean the husband of the hostess, helps the maid by switching the music from Pam's choices (The Syncopated Clock etc.) to his choices, Sinatra. Everything goes a little more smoothly with Sinatra. But Pam (Laura O'Conner) insists that "her" party needs a different flavour, which includes Julius putting on a jacket (naturally enough) instead of a sweater (how uncouth).
The dialogue hasn't started yet and the audience is already having a wonderful Friday night. And things get better from there.
Through the interplay of characters that belong in some absurdist comedy from some oft-forgotten, mid-European country, the play continues to wind itself through a series of impossibly ridiculous cocktail conversations, a frightfully dramatic monologue about green peppers, a farcical chase of all the guest throughout all of the house, some nearly naughty goings-on between a husband and wife on the chair (they get naughtier later on the couch...you remember the couch), to an impossible switch of character from Pam, who goes bonkers after falling flat on her face in the middle of the living room carpet.
It's a hoot.
The acting bears the stamp of a director who know what to ask for, but that should be no surprise - we're used to seeing that in a VanNorman production.
Galt Little Theatre regulars Rose Ryan and Robin Bennett play a married couple, guests at Pam's cocktail party.
Ms. Ryan, since I saw her here in The Affections of May, has gained absolute gobs of self-control and left all nervousness back in the dressing room. Watch as she staggers to the kitchen to help Pam with the canapes.
Bennett displays a very comfortable, unreserved presence. These two charactors, as do all of the others, get pleasantly soused as the evening progresses.
It's because Julius's cocktails are so wickedly good, I think. As is Julius.
Julus (Frank Neary) is the perfect host. He has none of the skills normally associate with a cocktail party host, except the most important one...he can make a cocktail (though most of them look green or perhaps blue).
For example, even though Leon (Adam Sproule) wants a gimlet, Julius knows exactly what to do:
Julius: "Do you care what's in it?"
Julius: "Then I don't think we have a problem."
Frank's Julius is superb, and you might want to think of Drew Carey in the same breath, but I don't care to watch enough of Drew Carey to find out if he's as good as Frank.
The supporting cast fits the play to a tea (or rather a cocktail) and they are Poppy Ruetz as Cynthia, Michael Forler as Max, Michelle Kreitzer as Denise, Cyndi Carleton as Lily and Jennifer Toohey as Estelle. Susan Beckerson's costumes are straight out of Ladies Home Journal, full of shimmering greens and armoured busts, except for the pair wearing the bowling shirts.
But that's another story...For Art's sake.
Death Trap is an adrenaline romp. Its playing now at the Waterloo Stage Theatre where it opened on Thursday night. Ira Levins play takes place in the woodsy cottage of playwright and university teacher Sidney Bruhl. He and wife (Myra) invite young student and playwright Clifford Anderson down to rework one of his scripts. . . a murder mystery. The Bruhls have the smell of success in their nostrils and want to cash in on Cliffords talent. Thats about all I can tell you really, but the 1978 script will no doubt be familiar to many of you.
What I can say is that the death and mayhem have been handled with much finesse by director Scott Hurst, actors Andrew Turnbull as Bruhl, Susan North as his wife and Trevor Smith Diggins as the young Clifford Anderson. Each conspire to bring great believability to those scenes which involve the end, either temporary or permanent, of any or either one of them. Director Hurst calls Death Trap a "classic thriller and a comedy which," he continues, "will hold you spell bound till the very last moment".
Husrt calls it a comedy because the plot and structure of any thriller demand the sort of temporary relief only a chuckle can provide. The small role played by Darlene Spencer provides much of the comedy. Ms Spencer plays ESP afficionado Helga Ten Dorp. Levin rightly reckoned the difficulty a western audience would have keeping a straight face upon merely hearing the name. Add to that the fun Ms Spencer has with the role and the house is sure to enjoy the relief. The end of the play, too, dictates the comedy designation, and works best if all before it has conspired to bring about the need for a relief in the change of pace.
The opening scenes had not the menace the script calls for, and this was a fault I had difficulty excusing, however toward the end of the play things seem to be gelling along quite nicely. All is helped along masterfully by set and lighting designer Stephen Degenstein whose stage is beset with a wonderfully heavy and moody set.
Performing at the peak of his stride is Trevor Smith Diggins who breezes through his part as though it were written for him. Diggins brings to the role of Clifford a comfort and an ease that are the essence of believability. He works much like one of those superior illusionists who nonchalantly picks open the lock of the constabularys strongest set of handcuffs with one hand while juggling an ancient and deadly array of tempered steel instruments of torture and mayhem in the other. Fellow cast member Andrew Turnbull should be proud to have brought out so much in Diggins.
Susan North plays a strong role and closes act one with wonderful strength. Dale Bell plays the Bruhls lawyer, Porter Milgrim, and Bell has the kind of comfortable presence which I would be happy to see utilized again, and soon, and with some improved frequency . . . .
Review By Jonathan Harrison...For Arts Sake.
Death Trap runs till April 24, 1999. Tickets at 519-888-0000.
Review by Jonathan Harrison
Twenty eight years later, Godspell is still one mighty fine show. First produced in 1971, the once byword musical is enjoying a revival at the Waterloo Stage Theatre where a young and enthusiastic cast under the direction of Joel Greenberg is giving it the goods.
On opening night, when I saw it last Thursday, the voices of the soloists seemed to run for cover in the chorus numbers. When the whole cast sang the place rocked, and, as the cast fits more performances under their belt their confidence will grow and grow and grow. It has to. Godspell is one great show.
What enthused me about this production was the way in which my teenaged daughter, Shiloh, and her friends enjoyed the production. They were rocking in their seats before Praise Ye The Lord was done and by the time You are the Light of the World came around and the house lights came up and the audience sang with the cast, well, they were darned irrepressible. All this from a foursome who, when invited to see the production asked as one "Whats Godspell?"
I exaggerate. Shiloh had seen a production at a local church nine years ago. And one friend knew a friend who was in it. But to all intents and purposes. It was time these kids saw Godspell.
The show, book by John-Michael Tebelak, music by Stephen Schwartz, is based on the Gospel according to St. Matthew and contains a lot of material from the sermon on the mount. The message it delivers is of the teachings of Christ to his young disciples and followers. Parables are illustrated by all manner of fun and frolic and the script allows for modern improvisation. The movie, Titanic ("Im king of the world") worked its way into this production, as did "whatever", the "fork or spoon" controversy and Starwars. It was an easy way of keeping the show relevant. And of course all those super little magic tricks were there. The snappy flowers, the fancy canes, the sock puppets and the false hair. The cast handled them well and without fuss.
What dates the show? The clothing seemed about all, and yet to even think of changing those psychedelic clown outfits would risk bringing down the wrath of . . . . everyone.
The music leans toward the folksy Day by Day to the rocky Save the People but is interspersed with some rapid-fire, soft-shoe (All for the Best) and All Good Gifts, a bit of a hymn really.
It was left to Cambridge choir director, and bass player for this production, Jacqueline Sadler, to sing On the Willows, but coming from above and behind the actors, I doubt the wisdom of this particular choice.
Young Jordan LAbbe plays Jesus and opening night jitters had to have had their toll on him. By the time this review is out hes going to be in a position to give not just the rest of the cast, but the audience, his all.. . .For Arts Sake
Godspell is produced in cooperation with the University of Waterloo Drama Department. It runs to June 12th. Tickets at 888-0000.
The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged) (sic) opened at The Waterloo Stage Theatre on Thursday and despite its title and the special way they spell it, the play isnt at all intimidating and it isnt even boring. In fact The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged) (sic) is a very funny show. I thought though that the humour might best fit an audience of the under thirties than the parents of such a group.
In the play, written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, three actors presume to give an account of all of Shakespeares works. Its billed that way; as a "slapstick parody featuring only three actors incorporating 11 tragedies, 16 comedies 7 histories and even some sonnets in a smorgasbord of vignettes. . ." etc. etc.
The three actors performing the roles at The Waterloo Stage Theatre , Randolph J. Johnston, Dylan Roberts and David Tompa do all that is asked of them and they do it with such energy and verve that I was exhausted just watching them. Roberts opens with a vocally charged introduction, Johnston follows with a revivalists preachers delivery and Tompa worms his way on stage in a ploy that defines the flavour of the night: unmitigated cheek and youthful charm. The set, looking for all the world like a tall wooden fence, supports that preconception.
And speaking of preconceptions, I must confess to having been a little apprehensive that as an audience member I would be tested on my knowledge of the great W.S. True, that is how the play starts, but you soon discover that the actors know no more about the Bard than you are expected to. They condense all 16 comedies into one big joke and treat the histories and the tragedies with equal decorum.
Romeo and Juliet is done as a sports show, Titus Andronicus as a television cooking show, they dash very, very quickly through the Scottish Play and treat the sonnets as a hand-out on a 3 x 5 inch study card. But Hamlet is given special treatment. First they do it, then they do it faster, then they do it backwards. It all takes talent. And cheek. And unmitigated charm.
Director Darlene Spencer has done her job efficiently and economically. Caesars laurel wreath is glibbly passed on to Anthony, the spotlight always appears in the wrong place and the trap doors in the walls couldnt have been arranged with more finesse. But surely designer Linda Carson had a hand in that too. The props and costume pieces help flesh out the show. The puppets are perfect, the wigs are a fright and the skulls natter back at the actors. What more could you ask? . . . For Arts Sake.