Reviewing a professional theatre company in an unknown venue performing a new work is one of the most interesting experiences a writer can have—especially in mid-run. Is this performance the best, the worst or somewhere in between? Where should the bar be placed?
In the case of Theatre Arts Niagara’s Unleavable—which continues until October 5 at the Niagara Artists’ Company’s Downstairs Theatre Space—I came away greatly encouraged with the calibre and talent of all concerned, although not entirely convinced of its billing as a “Comedy.”
Certainly Leroy Anderson’s The Typewriter, which saw both overture and scene-change duty (inevitably bringing images to mind from one of Jerry Lewis’ greatest routines) set a tone of humourous potential that was never reached, seemingly at odds with the snappy script.
The set was sparse and as pastel as the hero’s Hawaiian shirt; both served as metaphor for the emotional contrasts to follow. The crew went about their business competently. Technical director Douglas Ledingham showed his comic skills by perfectly timing the “on-the-nose” light on the magazine’s cover—a classic groaner. More, please.
Playwright Jason Cadieux (who was also cast as the failed writer, John) has produced a script that had me happily comparing its twists and turns to the master short story writer O. Henry. John drives a cab for cash and pounds his Underwood for esteem, but, despite surreptitiously sending out his work, will never be published. “I write for myself,” he rationalizes. Wife Lindsay—portrayed with conviction but somewhat uneven mannerisms by Stephanie Jones—tries to kick-start hubby’s career by entering her own story under his name in a contest sponsored by Forward Thinking magazine.
Self-appointed judge and conniving publisher, Dan, (played to perfection by veteran Peter Higginson, whose deviousness in both tone and body language would be admired by cabinet ministers everywhere) and his unseen—truly silent partner—Saul, are more concerned with the potential of the story’s sales than its authorship.
The fraudulent submission describes the action to come (it is the winner; the deceit will be discovered as John betrays himself—ideal for Easter) and becomes the story within the play. Soon everyone is lying, swearing shamelessly and revealing their selfish cores; all under the pretense of helping others—clearly a tale for our Enron-times.
Director Peter Feldman has done a superb job of cobbling together a show that is well-paced, intelligent and quietly fun. He uses every bit of the stage to advantage and draws first-rate work from his trio of actors, whose delivery and interaction improved as the piece progressed. However, there aren’t a lot of laughs. Sometimes the timing and unwritten hesitations robbed the lines of their sparkle; at others (notably the hilarious telephone duet between Dan and John), I realized that the material was funnier than it seemed. The problem being that in today’s world of global cheating, scandals, and corruption, the undercurrent of brand-name greed and false fronts was more like reading the Globe and Mail than high comedy.
But I was glad to be in the room as was the enthusiastic audience who enjoyed this production and are now looking forward to Be Wearing Wolf, which opens at the Old Court House Theatre Space on November 21. JWR