Back row Janet Uren, Kat Smiley, Tim Oberholzer. Front Row Michelle LeBlanc, David Whiteley, Genevieve Sirois, Alain Chamsi. (photo credit: Lois Siegel)
More of the Irishman in Ottawa
by Jim Murchison
Last month I had the pleasure of seeing Translations by Irish playwright Brian Friel at the Ottawa Little Theatre. Although there was a fair bit of humour in that piece, it was largely dramatic in tone. After the success of Translations, Friel followed it up with The Communication Cord. Both plays are set in the fictional Irish town of Ballybeg and both deal with language. Although The Communication Cord takes place 150 years later in the 1980’s, the picturesque rural setting is relatively the same, as it is set in an historic home in county Donegal. That is where all similarities between the plays end.
Director John P. Kelly is a funny man. His introductions are classic. He also seems to bring out playfulness in those around him. While the audience shouted at him to find his light during his opening comments, his crew would manage to take it away and relocate it, prompting Kelly to remind them that pay day was coming. It was a clever and fun way to introduce a farce.
David Magladry has designed and lit a beautiful set. A large fieldstone floor is surrounded by beautiful old walls. A fireplace with a suspicious draft is stage left right beside a door that leads offstage. All of the furniture is placed tight to the walls including a guest bed curtained off in the corner. There is a staircase stage right that leads to an overhanging loft held up by a temporary support beam. A door at the top of the stairs leads to another room offstage. Underneath it is an area used to board livestock, complete with chains to tether the cow for the night.
Brian Friel has based his well crafted farce on a simple lie. A linguistics professor of modest means and no tenure needs to impress his girlfriend’s Doctor/Senator father with his historic home but he doesn’t have one, so he borrows one from a friend. The plan is get them in and out, and after dad is suitably impressed take the train home.
Simple plans go awry when you throw in a nosy neighbour, an ex-girlfriend, a sexy French girl and a German with limited English intent on purchasing the house. There were a few minor glitches and some inconsistent accents but overall the cast succeeds in providing some rollicking entertainment.
David Whitely plays the uptight professor Tim Gallagher with just the right amount of nervous befuddlement. He spins around like a whirling dervish, usually with a bowl of vodka or a woman’s undergarment in hand, magnifying his problems with each successive lie.
Michelle LeBlanc as the old girlfriend Claire Harkin delights in stirring the pot. She plays the coquettish imp beautifully. One look at the devilish grin and twinkle in her eye tells you that Tim is getting no cooperation from her in his subterfuge.
Steve Martin almost steals the show as Barney the Banks. His portrayal of the lascivious, vodka loving, good natured German with almost no understanding of English is a comic gem.
Tim Oberholzer adds to the fun as the womanizing and oh-so-sincere lawyer who lends out his house and Kat Smiley is the jealous girlfriend Susan.
The cast is rounded out by Alain Chamsi as the somewhat idealistic, self righteous Dr. Donovan, Genevieve Sirois as the comely French neighbour Evette and Janet Uren as Nora Dan, the Ballybeg’s version of Gladys Kravitz.
Some people may tell you that the farce of The Communication Cord is a backdrop for some deeper examination of socio-economic injustice or parochialism, sexism or some societal woe. Personally, I think a good farce is always about sex and deception primarily and anything else you glean from it is an accidental by-product. So, in the words of John P Kelly , “Have fun!” I promise you that the cast will bring the house down every night.