Let’s just say it: Ric Reid is the funniest man in St. Catharines. Well known as an exceptionally gifted dramatic actor in leading roles (notably American Buffalo and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf) and a quick-witted foil in supporting parts (Mrs. Warren’s Profession), in Michele Riml’s no-holds-barred exploration of a stalled couple trying to rekindle their sexual gearbox, Reid puts on a masterful display of the subtleties of comedic style that immediately makes this a must-see show.
As zany and deeply, er, probing as the script is (using a library-borrowed, Post-It Note readied copy of Sex for Dummies as the key prop), the play’s finest moments come largely from the physical side of humour. Left temporarily on his own in the upscale weekend love-nest known as Haute’L, Reid’s character, Henry, opts for a peek at the television whose daily newscasts—after another long day at the office (he’s “an engineer, not a poet”)—have been the highlight of his home life for years.
Then, before you can say stereotypical guy, Reid performs a side-splitting Concerto for Two Remote Controls and Unwitting Operator that wordlessly speaks volumes about male bravura/ineptitude. The women of the capacity crowd howled in knowing delight while the men either chuckled at their own hi-tech shortcomings or squirmed uncomfortably in their seats wondering if they’d set the PVR properly before driving to the theatre.
As good as that bit was, the best was still to come. Once again having the stage to himself, the nearly divorced, suddenly rejuvenated out-of-practice-but-ready-to-climb-back-onto-the-saddle provider accepts his own invitation to the dance and begins gyrating in time to the disco-laden tracks that somehow he has managed to coax out of the hotel’s sound system (see previous gag). After a delightfully tentative start, Henry is soon flailing all limbs and shaking his overly sat-upon booty as the fifty-something sad sack discovers the joy of synchronized rhythm and body parts. His transformation from dry dullard to party animal is nearly complete when an unexpected setback threatens to destroy all of the progress to date. For out of the speakers comes the gay national anthem, “YMCA.” The metamorphosis on Reid’s visage from abject revolution at, by musical association, becoming one of “those people” to a self-affirming “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” bring-it-on look of triumph is as brilliant in its execution as it is so absolutely at one with Riml’s ideas and director Jon Osbaldeston’s vision. How this scene was conceived matters not, but the overarching sense of collaboration, respect and fun amongst all cast and crew that frequently permeated the air delighted everyone.
Also showing her unflinching zest for life and ability to draw laughs out of thin air was Kelly Daniels as she portrayed Alice—the frustrated wife who so desperately wants to remake her man into what she knows he needs to be! (“Well, if you’d listen the first time, I wouldn’t have to tell you.”).
Best of show for Daniels comes as she poses in front of an air mirror, trying out her sexiest looks and rearranging shoulder straps et al to their best advantage: think mirror, mirror on the wall meets Linda Lovelace.
Special mention goes to lighting designer Matt Flawn for his seamless shifts from hotel-room reality to, in one case, a literal fantasy island as the couple-in-progress recall or invent their sexual desires (don’t miss Daniels’ Italian “translation” as she imagines a kinky threesome making it on a restaurant table).
The perfect storm of excellent writing, solid direction and actors who have long stopped letting their parents look over their shoulders combine for a wonderful journey through a relationship poised to crash on the rocks, but instead manages to boogie its way into a safe harbour where the dress code is form-fitting leather and riding crops. JWR