Risk Everything | After the Fall |

Some reviews of 2004

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Risk Everything

by George F. Walker
Niagara Arts Centre, St. Catharines
March 4-13, 2004

Review by Guest Reviewer James Wegg.

Your comments and reviews are always welcome


An intriguing night of theatre awaits all those who check into the Niagara Arts Centre’s production of George F. Walker’s concluding play of his Suburban Motel sextet. “Risk Everything” moves fast and ferociously as the quartet of actors, anchored in the single-set motel room traipse through its two doors (bathroom and parking lot) with Cosi Fan Tutte-like dexterity, repopulating the scenes with ease.

Director Peter Feldman has coaxed some fine moments from his troupe, characteristically letting the script lead the business, allowing Walker to land his points with clarity and precision.

The premise of a reckless Mom (Carol, played with zeal if not line-perfect delivery by Mary Laundry) hiding out (following an ugly beating over lifting cash from the unseen but notorious Steamboat Jeffries) with Denise, her delinquent daughter (played convincingly by Dawn Crysler) could be enough for a play in itself. But between arguing/bonding moments they have further opportunities to reveal more of themselves through their men: RJ (ex-con, born-again TV sitcom devotee performed with manic glee by Jack Wieler) and Michael (the next-door pornographer who knocks up the kidney-bruised Carol using an overly-frisky limb rather than fists; Patrick Noonan was totally believable as the lusting filmmaker taking a break).

The comedy is dark and not always successful. Denise walks in on her wayward mother taking a pounding from her latest conquest under the sheets. “Are you wearing anything,” she demands, afraid of imminent over-exposure. “A condom?” he replies sheepishly. Topical, but forced. Props to the rescue: having Michael parade in St. Patrick’s Day boxers was as cute as it was timely and the outrageous hairpiece (hastily installed after the “coitus interuptus” sent me immediately to the vision of Burt Reynolds in Boogie Nights, which, in turn, led to an echo of Tom Cruise’s underwear strut in Risky Business.

The scenes are effectively divided by musical snippets from the far past (“That’s Life”), before complementing RJ’s TV fetish with “The A Team” and “Happy Days” themes. Beyond that, the soundscape was too barren: neither flush nor splash could be heard from the often-used bathroom; the hissing gag around the strapped on dynamite (not giving much away to say that a time-sensitive bomb is used to ensure the return of the purloined loot, but given the dearth of suicide bombers in recent years any comic intent was slight) was equally mute, yet the “I Love Lucy” laugh track was loud and clear.

As the play moves forward, Walker uses Carol to trumpet his beliefs “Love only pays off when you play to win,” while never letting a chance (er, literally) for in-your-face sex go by “… [here’s] a blow for our side.” Then out of nowhere, in what is worth the price of admission alone, Denise’s rapid-fire rant about money hits home spectacularly, aided on this occasion by Crysler’s superb rage.

The set is wonderful from the cheesy watercolours to the aging radiator (from which a few sputters and wheezes wouldn’t have been out of place). Carol’s wardrobe from black panties to seedy leopard-skin nightie and her red-leather boots, all added to bits of depth to the economy-rate pastiche. However, putting Jack Daniels and Tim Hortons on the same table seemed off – surely Seagram’s’ Rye would be more apt for this Canadian locale.

Between the farce and fun, “Risk Everything” provokes and stimulates paying off bigtime for those who’ve wagered a night out.

©2004 S. James Wegg

Your comments and reviews are always welcome


Written by Arthur Miller
Equity Showcase Theatre
651 Dufferin Street (at Dundas), Toronto
March 18 - Apr 3, 2004


“Is the last truth always that we are murderous?”- Quentin, Act I

Equity Showcase Theatre has conclusively lived up to its name and mandate in bringing about the production of After the Fall, some forty years after its New York première. Under director Rod Ceballos’ knowing hand, this dense, near-delirious masterwork is permitted to rant or ramble at will, ever mindful of the circumstances and personalities that indirectly populate every scene, thought and posture.

Not many directors are willing to release so much authority to their charges, but because of that trust, performers are determined to show it was merited. Ceballos knows this and was rewarded by his troupe with a compelling sense of purpose that could never have come from the far too common “art by dictum” approach.

The large, accomplished cast moves comfortably through the play’s varied tempi and tones, but from her first appearance at the bus stop, it’s clear that Miller has lost again, for Maggie’s range of character and delicious descent into madness easily outstrips Quentin’s predominance, gripping our hearts in a way her sometime husband never could.

But that result wasn’t all because of the writing. Lesley Faulkner so effectively slipped into Maggie’s skin, that the lost lines during the pill-prodded, Jack Daniel's-chased annihilation of her unfeeling lover mattered naught: her staggering emotional intensity filled in all of the blanks and left the capacity audience uncomfortably silent; as empty as Quentin’s support for another partner, Louise (capably rendered by Jill Harland, who stoically revealed herself as “a separate person”).

With the entirely apt use of the script’s “hello” bookends, Quentin carries the bulk of the intervening drama on his lawyer’s shoulders. Joseph Gallaccio was up to the challenge, navigating the persona around, above and beneath him with great conviction. And, as the run progresses, he may well equal the dynamic scope of his most difficult love, perhaps allowing the impact of his confessions rather than the sheer volume of their delivery to send their points home.

His black-suit, white-shirt attire was echoed in the atrocities of the era and the primary tones of Lin Joyce’s set. With so many snippets of story to weave in rapid fire, the staircase solution worked well. However, as time went on, it seemed incongruous for drinks or linen to be noisily delivered up and down the steps, when the shortest line between front and back stage appeared to be an unfettered path around the platform. Still, the careful use of the supporting cast as set dressing worked beautifully, providing visual relief yet permitting the overall starkness to pervade.

Gordon Peck’s lighting design was effective, but, with more resources, might have taken on a more important role than the steps in moving the characters in and out of view. Similarly, an upgraded sound system would have permitted the carefully chosen music to underscore the action with primary rather than pastel colourings.

Miller uses Quentin’s immediate family to reveal character: Rose Ryan as Mother was steady and convincing in her need to maintain harmony even in the face of financial ruin,” where Terry Wells’ Father starts slowly (too quick to wail on the unexpected news of his spouse’s passing) and Todd Campbell’s spineless Dan, make’s his roving-eye brother seem manly.

Special mention must be made to David Mackett’s superbly high-strung depiction of Lou, who wordlessly demonstrates his tragic servitude in a wonderfully inspired bit of business as, fearing a second chastisement, he stuffs his loud Hawaiian shirt into his shorts, adding extra depth to his black socks and sandals ...

Hovering over the play, like Beethoven’s Leonore trying to save her shackled Florestan, is Holga (Pamela Rhae Ferguson, whose affected German accent seems at odds with saying “Magic Flute” in English). Declaiming her birthing dream of an “idiot child” only to later realize that it was, in fact, herself could, at various moments in our lives, readily apply to us all.

©2004 S. James Wegg

Your comments and reviews are always welcome




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