Friday, 16 October 2015

Theatre Woodstock hits grand-slam homer with Mrs. Parliament

Dave Butcher as Alonzo Marx and Elizabeth Durand as Teresa Parliament. Photo by Eric Terry

Mrs. Parliament’s Night Out
Theatre Woodstock
By Norm Foster
Directed by Mark Mooney
Produced by Mona Brennan-Coles
October 16-24 – 8 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinee October 18
Woodstock Theatre
Approximate running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes (with one interval)
Box Office 519-537-2582

Review by GEOFF DALE

Having endured Canada’s longest and arguably most painful federal mudslinging campaign, it’s more than delightful to see not a trace of ‘parliamentary’ shennaigans in Norm Foster’s cleverly biting and often touching outing Mrs. Parliament’s Night Out.

Rest assured dear audiences there is nary a trace of politics in this delightful play, not a Harper, Trudeau, Mulcair, May or Duceppe to be found on stage – just a very gifted Theatre Woodstock company bringing the work of Canadian’s premiere playwright to life in fine fashion.

As with many of his plays, the plot is relatively straightforward. Here the focus is on 50-something Teresa Parliament (played with vigour and charm by Elizabeth Durand), whose husband Chuck (played with perfect doltish cluelessness by Dan Connolly) – a walking, talking definition of a beige personality – has forgotten their 32nd wedding anniversary.

The slight offers Teresa the  perfect opportunity to literally explore herself, determine what she is all about and just what she has been missing in her life of blandness with her nondescript, unmotivated lunch pail of a hubby.
The result – a not-so-happily married and tad innocent woman ready to sample real life on the outside – embarks on a journey of self-discovery that takes her every evening of the week to a series of clubs introducing her to the wonders of photography, archery, salsa dancing, bowling, wine-tasting and even a self-help group where junkies attempt to recover their self-esteem in an effort to rejoin mainstream society.
While her almost accidental association with the latter group produces the most intriguing sub-plot – aided in large part by former junkie/now successful businessman Steve Blackburn (well played by John Hammond) – it is her attempts to discover her vocal talents (virtually non-existent) that result in the production’s more decidedly slapstick moments.
The key to getting Foster right is to capture the playwright’s love of snappy one-liners, quick delivery, well-paced comic moments intermingled with those slices of bittersweet segments of life that illustrate the duality of human nature.
Director Mark Mooney clearly has all the right stuff for this production. In short he understands what Foster is all about – from scenes of loneliness and valiant attempts to recapture lost segments of people’s past to flat-out humour and multi-dimensional characterizations. The pacing is spot-on and, vital to the success of such a play; the delivery is direct and snappy.
Another key to this production is the proper usage of what some might envision as peripheral characters. In reality those seemingly on the sidelines of the main characters’ lives are integral to the storyline. In this particular case two fine examples of this are the affable, talkative grocer Alonzo Marx (David Butcher) who dispenses advice to one and all like an all-knowing neighbourhood barkeep and the wonderfully crusty old neighbour Carl Lewicki (Paul Blower) perched on his outdoor chair like a wise old owl.
Both Butcher and Blower, symbols of both warmth and caginess, excel at the fine art of scene-stealing, delightfully dishing out a variety of imaginative facial gestures, witty, razor-edged comebacks and well executed stage movements of genuine professional caliber.
Other cast members display real comic acting chops taking on a variety of diverse roles. Vanessa Giuliano stands out as the lingerie sales clerk, Ginny and Rosa, tackling each with gusto. Brian Moore is top notch dipping into the polls-apart effeminate and ultra-masculine tendencies of his collection of oddball folks – watch salesman Devilin, Puncho and Andre.
Meanwhile, Eric Terry is impressive tackling an intriguing mix of supporting players including Bruno, Eduardo, Winston and Julian – characters with wildly different life experiences. Several memorable moments come courtesy of the exuberant Kim Serediak as Sylvia Summers and Teresa’s boisterous cheerleading wine tasting comrade Myrna. Fern Tepperman rounds out the cast in fine style as Ruby, Marie and Beck.
A relatively long production in excess of two hours, the company under Mooney’s guidance ensures the action is on track, demonstrating how great comic timing and well-placed snippets of drama can provide the kind of balance for which playwright Foster is so widely respected.

Hats off to the director, producer Mona Brennan-Coles, actors and an excellent technical crew from lighting and costume to sound and props. Mrs. Parliament’s Night Out delivers a great evening out for theatre lovers. **** out of four stars.

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