Theatre in Port’s latest offering is a frothy confection that engagingly examines the relationship spectrum from to-die-for first dates through to-die-with sunset years of the traditional family unit.
Its seventeen songs and sketches exploring the fun, foibles and philosophy of modern suburban life are delivered by a steady quartet of actors who change costumes and personas more frequently than Elizabeth Taylor trades-in husbands.
Beginning its current format in New York City nearly seven years ago, the script is as timeless as people are relentless in the quest of reeling in a life partner (“I Will Be Loved Tonight,” the mantra of us all) only to spend the rest of their days trying to mould that person into something more suitable. Attending a performance should be a prerequisite for all of those contemplating a trip down the aisle.
Act I, beginning with the sagely robed Druids (“Cantata for a First Date”), is a funny romp through the perils and pitfalls of trolling society for the perfect mate. Led by “blind, desperate, hope,” Joe DiPietro’s lyrics and Jimmy Roberts’ songs (played on the balcony ivories with skill and finesse by musical director Christopher Mounteer) are more savvy than memorable (“A Stud and a Babe,” “Satisfaction Guaranteed” stand out), but serve the performers well. No one went home humming the title tune.
Given the logistics, the musical numbers held together remarkably well with just a few moments of unintended counterpoint or less than ideal balance distracting from the general level of excellence.
Overall, the only lemon was the dating-show scene (set in prison) where the notion of a mass-murderer as a comic element should be scrapped: there are too many horrific real-life incidents to make an AK-47 slaughter even remotely funny./p>
After intermission the sketches take on post-dating bliss: marriage, in-laws, kids, starting over after death did us part and our unstoppable emotions (“If love’s a disease, then get me a nurse”). Bringing up baby is also explored, including a stuffed toy safety tip: “Make sure the eyes can’t bite off.”
Director/choreographer Di Nyland Proctor has done a superb job of using every bit of the compact space. She seamlessly moves the scenes forward by having her able cast set and strike every change in the twinkling of an eye.
Using six multi-coloured plinths and deftly placed hinges, Stewart Simpson’s economical design allows for much visual variety (particularly the instant erection of the pull-down bed), which also contributes to the overall pace.
(Note to props: perhaps the loss of the tennis match by the athletic stud to the court-side princess had more to do with the broken strings in his dusty racket than his inability to smash winners.)
With all of that to work with, lighting designer Peter Servos has patched together a plan that makes us believe the self-indulgent toddler’s slide show is actually clicking from frame to frame: it’s a model of discretion and workplace safety during the numerous transitions.
But it’s the two-couple troupe that carries the show. Whether solo, duet, trio or full-out ensemble, this talented bunch makes us feel their pain, frustration, joy and coming ecstasy (“I Will Be Loved Tonight”). They bring confidence and flair to DiPietro’s light-hearted revue and often make the material seem better than it is.
Alison Smith has a real show-stopper in her poignant near-lament, “Always a Bridesmaid.” As the age of her characters hits the senior years, she effortlessly morphs into them with aplomb and Carol Burnett-like sensitivity.
From back-seat nuisance to gangly nerd to stud-muffin extraordinaire, Bruce Thompson brings considerable panache and the most consistent voice of the group to his roles whether being picked up, done or dumped. His enthusiasm is contagious, lifting all those around and in front of him as the production sails along.
Another highlight is the hilarious “Marriage Tango” where Jordana A. Kohn excels on all fronts: musical, theatrical and dance—I’ve never seen anyone flourish a toilet bowl scrubber with such dexterity. She also regresses into her inner-child with total conviction.
Paul Wintemute’s marvellously expressive face more than makes up for his occasional lapses in pitch. He, literally, improves with age; his “pas de deux” with double walkers brought the house down and had more than a few recall the lust-driven antics of the dirty old man from Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.
But it fell to a member of the capacity crowd to deliver the best line of the night. As Wintemute ambled onto the stage, ready to have morning coffee and silent newspaper roulette with his long-suffering equally sedentary wife, the spontaneous exclamation three seats over “Here I come,” drew howls of knowing recognition from the largely seniors’ gallery.
With a run into August, no one should miss this golden opportunity of brushing up on their relationship skills and strategies; it’s an evening well spent. JWR