Thursday, March 22, 2012

Review: (Ottawa) Self Help

Foster Child
Another comedy by our king pleases the crowd at OLT
by Jim Murchison
Last night as the final strains of Oh Canada rang out, a gentleman in my row leaned forward and literally cracked heads with the woman sitting down in the row in front of us. The Three Stooges couldn’t have played it any better. It was a sign that I was in for an evening of farce.
Self Help is a play about the compromises we make for survival and comfort and the things we lose along the way as we make our life decisions. It is also about love and sex. Writer Norm Foster has written a play that has considerable disdain for the snake oil salesman and hucksters that pitch self improvement.  Rather than do an in depth exposé of empowerment gurus, Foster  holds them up to examination by lampooning their banal platitudes and hyperbolic assertions that we can achieve anything by ridding ourselves of doubt.
Hal Savage is married to Cindy Savage and they are both in love with the theatre. The problem is that playing Dinner Theatre in Flin Flon doesn’t make money. Meanwhile, the self motivational prophets are playing to packed houses and rolling in dough. It seems to Hal and Cindy that it’s just a different type of Theatre; one that makes money.  
Dale MacEachern plays Hal Savage with a great sense of comic timing and he knows when to throw a line away for comic effect. Chantale Plante is also terrific as Cindy. She has a peppy cheerleader quality as the pitchman and plays the frustrated wife to full comic effect. Cindy Beaton plays the Savage’s long suffering maid Bernice. Early on her funniest moments occur offstage through an intercom, but by the time the attractive reporter Jeremy Cash played by Andrew Stewart arrives on the scene, Beaton plays one of the best comic scenes of the night with a flirtatious, star struck, schoolgirl energy. For his part Stewart takes on the role of the villainous tabloid media worm Cash with appropriate smarminess and arrogance.
Michele Snyder plays theatrical agent Ruby Delvecchio. There were some moments where the audience reaction overwhelmed her performance and there was a bit of opening night nervousness early on, but she settled down. Rounding out the cast was Ian Fraser playing detective Snow. While the role is mainly a supporting one, he had some choice comedy bits; in particular, the scene about some marital problems he was having was quite funny. 
The first two scenes take place in front of the curtain, so it isn’t until about 15 or 20 minutes into the play that we are treated to Tom Pidgeon’s beautiful set design of the Savage’s home. Upstage, a wall of glass doors open out onto a garden patio. Curios rest on stylish tables and opulent decor hangs on the walls. There is of course a small bar and most importantly lots of places enter and exit: an essential element of any Farce. 
Director Joan Sullivan Eady understands the importance of timing and pace and has ensured that the play moves quickly without allowing the fun to be rushed, even when the characters on stage are in a frantic tizzy. If there are any understated lessons to be garnered from the play, they are unimportant. This was written for the laughs. Self Help is likely going to be one of the season’s favourites judging from the reaction of the audience. 

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