Teatro la Quindicina: “Revenge of the South Sea Bubble” & “What Gives?”

I was so excited for the first Teatro la Quindicina show of the season (The Exquisite Hour, back in July of 2007, was the last Teatro play on stage) a double billing of the new Revenge of the South Sea Bubble and a revamp of What Gives? While not wholly disappointing, the evening was a mixed bag.

On the website, the Revenge of the South Sea Bubble is presented to be “a captivatingly convoluted noir-ish tale of deceptions compounded by lies, and speculations masquerading as conjecture.” Unfortunately, the one-act is as vague as the description. Involving two librarians, a Marilyn Monroe-esque dancer, a waiter, and a plot that was bereft of any real amusement, it really isn’t worth discussing further. Farren Timoteo as Vasco was endearing in his hyperbolic mannerisms however, and by the end of the evening, thoroughly reminded me of both Mark Meer (in his accent delivery) and Jeff Haslam (in his physical comedy).

What Gives?, a musical comedy, thankfully made up for the first show: “a pair of inspirationally bereft Broadway tunesmiths have their world turned upside down by the unexpected arrival of a pair of Canadian chorines.” Lighthearted and funny, the dialogue really allowed the actors to shine. I particularly liked Kendra Connor’s turn as Allure Potemkin, especially her showstopper of a “Baby Legs” number (Connor has the charm of Andrea House and the sass of Leona Brausen). The staging of “The Shanghai Stir-Fry” was also fairly clever, and as with most productions that don’t take themselves too seriously, it was easy to enjoy.

A Rocky Night for His Nibs is up next in July.

Theatre: “The Exquisite Hour”

After dinner, Mack and I headed to the Varscona to check out Stewart Lemoine’s latest, The Exquisite Hour. From the website:

“A seemingly well-adjusted bachelor finds his life forever altered on a summer evening when an alluring stranger materializes in his backyard to ask the question ‘Are you satisfied with what you know?'”

Not a new work but a remount, the play had the feel of a Fringe production. It really was only sixty minutes in length, but more than that, the light, summer quality of the content was devoid of the existential elements I have come to associate with Lemoine. As well, though Jeff Haslam did his best to make the mood shift from one of lighthearted make believe to mourning the loss of time realistic, even he couldn’t hide the fact that the switch was much too sudden.

That said, The Exquisite Hour did feature some great exchanges between the two leads, and allowed Haslam to showcase his talent in line delivery. This was my first time watching Kate Ryan on stage, and she was every bit as spunky and charming as the role demanded.

I should say that Mack didn’t enjoy the play at all, but I am certain he felt he got his money’s worth with our proximity that night to fellow audience member Ron Pederson(!).

I may also have to make it a habit of watching Teatro productions on a non-pay-what-you-can night. That Thursday, they offered free wine before curtain, and a dessert reception following the play. I guess that’s what our ticket dollars go towards.

Two changes at Teatro this fall: Lemoine is stepping down as Artistic Director of the company, and will be replaced by longtime associate Haslam (but not to worry, Lemoine will still be writing!). Secondly, the production calendar will be shifting to a spring/summer/fall schedule after a winter hiatus. More information about the news available here.

Theatre: “East of My Usual Brain”

After dinner, Mack and I watched the new charmingly-titled Stewart Lemoine play East of My Usual Brain at the Varscona Theatre. From the website:

“East of My Usual Brain sets forth the utterly unexpectable tale of young bookstore clerk Eric Thaw (Ryan Parker), whose perceptions of life in an unremarkable city undergo an extraordinary transformation when he accepts a position as the research assistant to tempestuous European author Istvan Madaras (Ron Pederson). Istvan has himself been completely untethered from his moorings after a chance encounter with the alluringly pensive Bianca (Belinda Cornish) one afternoon in a public garden. Inspired, amused, and occasionally horrified by this romantically tortured pair, Eric must broker a resolution in a suddenly unfamiliar landscape that grows more peculiar and more beautiful with every scene.”

Let me just preface this review with the advice to never attend a show tired. That said, it was no fault of the play itself that I missed most of the first half due to, well, a lack of caffeine in my system. From what I did gather, it was a typical Lemonian-exercise of a verbally shy courter, with Pederson for the first time cast not as the yuppie bystander, but as the starry-eyed would-be Romeo. Pederson did great, pulling off both a mustache and accent without falter (his silent struggle with low table seating in the tea shop was a notable comedic moment). Parker was a seamless addition to the Teatro family (as this was his Teatro debut), and I can see why Lemoine reacted with a “You–get in the car” comment after seeing Parker’s spoof of the 80s duo Wham. My only lukewarm reception was towards Cornish – noticeably older than Pederson, her inclusion in this role appeared mainly to be because of her English accent. She was as upright, mysterious, and transcendent as her character demanded, but I wasn’t entirely sold that both Eric and Istvan would fall for her. Moreover, whoever’s decision to allow Bianca the number of costume changes that would rival an Oscar host’s should regret it – Maggie Walt‘s designs were flashy and ultimately distracting. Bianca’s wardrobe superseded the focus that should have been on the words.

The set deserves its own praise as well – both beautiful and functional, the red lanterns hung behind the paper screen were a nice touch. However, I am still wondering whether designer Mike Takats deliberately chose to use low tables, despite its alignment with Japanese and not Chinese culture.

All in all, it was an enjoyable play, with the expected poignant metaphor (in this case, excuse my mangling, but of the orientation necessary in love and in life), charming characters, clever dialogue, and laughs.

Theatre: “House of Cats”

After Murietta’s, May and I headed to the Varscona to check out the newest Teatro La Quindicina production, House of Cats:

“a hapless bylaw officer investigates a highly concentrated feline presence in a bungalow shared by two sisters and learns that in certain circumstances the lines separating what’s obsessive, what’s crazy, and what’s just plain fun can be deliciously blurred.”

A piece by Cathleen Rootsaert, I must admit my immediate bias against any Teatro premiere not penned by the venerable Stewart Lemoine. And while I do think it’s possible for a play to be both frivolous and entertaining (last summer’s Hey Countess! is a good example), House of Cats only exemplified the former. It was definitely a ‘madcap’ production, with emphasis on ‘mad.’

It was difficult to like the characters – while their actions throughout were reasonable, they were all so self-indulgent and contained within their individual existences that the entire script seemed like a pointless exercise. There were some good lines (e.g. after his explanation of blogging and WoW, the bylaw officer comments that, “Being anti-social isn’t what it used to be”), but most of the humor felt downright forced.

The bright spots included Jeff Haslam’s set – ornate, rich, and with more cat-nacks than I’ve ever seen in one space. Also, Leona Brausen’s nervous energy translated perfectly into the role of kooky sister Helene. She had by far the juiciest part, but she aptly demonstrated her comic timing and skill in exhibiting oddball tendencies.

Next up for Teatro: a new Lemoine in May!

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.