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 (convincingly portrayed 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 red-leather boots—added bits of depth to the economy-rate pastiche. However, putting Jack Daniel’s 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. JWR