Theatre: “Eros and the Itchy Ant”

This afternoon, a friend and I headed to Varscona Theatre (10329-83 Avenue) to watch Teatro La Quindicina‘s season opener, titled Eros and the Itchy Ant. From the flyer:

“Music and mythology converge to make magic in this unstoppably hilarious romp, set in that most unexpected of Teatro setting – present day Canada. A piano teacher and a baker explore the possibilities of mutual attraction with a little intervention from a tart-tongued mezzo-soprano and an affable contemporary incarnation of the Greek god of Amor.”

First thing – I think Stewart Lemoine productions are meant to be enjoyed in a packed house: it’s an unspoken rule that the communal experience on a grander scale somehow make the laughs funnier. Unfortunately, this matinee performance was only about half full.

It’s hard not to judge Lemoine by comparison, because I know what he is capable of (Shocker’s Delight! has become my standard of which community theatre is measured by), so I found the plot of Eros to be sorely lacking. Unlike most of his other romantic comedies, the only obstacle to the would-be couple was themselves. Nothing is more frustrating than having to watch characters get over their assumptions for the inevitable pairing to occur. Moreover, I have never been a big fan of musicals in any incarnation, and though I enjoyed hearing “The Itchy Ant” piano piece and watching the manic comedy of the Psyche opera scene unfold, I think the musical interjections disrupted the flow of the play as a whole.

Jesse Gervais, who played the hapless male lead Franklin, was the only cast member not in the 2002 premiere. Although John Kirkpatrick was the original Franklin, I still couldn’t help but think what Ron Pederson would have done with the role. Nothing against Gervais’ performance, but Pederson’s brand of awkward grace would have better suited the rhythm and chemistry of the group.

As typical in Lemoine productions, the supporting characters stole the show. Wanda, friend and coworker to the female lead, was the perfect blend of supportive associate and blunt observer, played to a T by the stately Sheri Somerville. And Jeff Haslam, always a welcome presence, brought his boisterous energy to the title role of Eros, immediately putting the audience at ease. I don’t think I can wait eight months to see him again on the Varscona stage, so I am planning to catch a performance of the Euro-style variety show, Oh Susannah! sometime soon.

Despite the overall disappointment of Eros, I will be back in February for the next Teatro play. Lemoine has done much to earn my respect for his work, and I believe it’s a compliment, ultimately, for the expectations to be so high. He’ll have two more opportunities to clear the bar this year.

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