Richard Gelinas, Tim Oberholzer, Kelly Rigole, Robin Guy, Kathi Langston
A Blast With No Answers
Dr. Fell fills the prescription for the November blahs
By Jim Murchison
The current tradition in theatre is to start the performance with a few words from the director. Most of the time this consists of reframing what is in the program notes to begin with. The tone for the evening was instantly set when John P. Kelly after a few words about his twentieth play in Canada admitted, “It’s all my fault.” He then instructed the audience to enjoy themselves and join everyone afterwards for food and music.
Mr. Kelly is a personal friend of the writer, Bernard Farrell, and it shows. He has directed the play with care and precision, making the most of its witty examination of American style therapy. Although there is a great deal of pretentious posturing by the characters, the play and the production are so completely unpretentious and fun to watch that it works on every level.
Some of the blame for two and a half hours that speeds by like a one act play has to be placed on an ensemble...
The play is at least as schizophrenic as its subject matter, leaping off in several directions at once, every one of them intriguing. The audience is left a little off balance, never quite sure who is hiding, or being honest. Whether you find it thrilling, frightening, confusing or exciting it is always funny and entertaining and that is entirely Kelly’s and Farrell’s fault.
Okay, let’s be honest here. After all, we are talking about discovery and truth. Some of the blame for two and a half hours that speeds by like a one act play has to be placed on an ensemble cast that stays true to their characters and their respective neuroses.
We’re introduced immediately to Paddy (Lawrence Evanchick), the group attendant of a therapy session. Early on we learn that attendant means he locks the participants in a room and has as little involvement with the “weirdoes” as possible. Enter Joe. Paddy is certain that Joe won’t fit in. He thinks Joe is too normal for these kooks.
What Fell definitely is, is a little bit of timid whimsy, cloaked in an air of sinister mischief.
Joe Fell (Stewart Matthews) is anything but normal. He is a peculiarly quiet fellow, with an intermittent stutter. Fell is not a Dr., a pilot, a radio announcer or an electrician; unless of course he is. If you’re a bit confused, you’re at the right theatre. What Fell definitely is, is a little bit of timid whimsy, cloaked in an air of sinister mischief.
The group co-ordinator, Suzy Bernstein (Kelly Rigole), encourages everyone in the group to relax, relate and communicate but is incredibly uncomfortable whenever any true feelings emerge. She encourages honesty, but can neither recognize nor practice it. She inexplicably speaks with a New York accent while alleging to be from Texaleto, which may be in Utah or Arizona depending on who you believe.
Roger (Tim Oberholzer) is a self proclaimed narcissist, dedicated to serial therapy. He travels the world searching out the most perfect and effective method of artistic and personal discovery, while remaining completely paranoid about his closeted sexuality.
There is a husband and wife working through their problems as well. The appropriately named Peter (Richard Gelinas) bristling with machismo is a builder, suspicious of everyone that approaches or looks at his wife Maureen. Maureen (Robin Guy) is a coyly salacious, unfulfilled wife that tries as hard as she can to assuage Peter’s insecurity, but can’t help her own flirtatious nature.
...something that has no idea about what it wants to be: but it seems to work.
Finally there is the single-mindedly sweet and simple Rita (Kathi Langston), who is fixated on her husband’s demise at the paws of ravaging dogs and obsessed with reminiscence of her 12 cats (possibly 13, if you include her favourite, Judas).
I talked briefly to John P. Kelly after the play's conclusion when my loitering in the lobby interfered with the path to his beer and we chatted about the Company and the play. He described the play as something that has no idea about what it wants to be: but it seems to work.
Too often in the theatre and in society, we credit artists with the power to resolve the world’s problems and set us on a path of enlightenment. The reason that this production works so incredibly well is that it doesn’t burden itself with such subterfuge. It lampoons the whole self- empowerment journey and contents itself instead with being wildly entertaining. There is no dramatic resolution, not even any answered questions really; just a whole lot of fun! Go see it.