Friday, June 21, 2013

Review: (Toronto) The Way of All Fish / Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet

Nonnie Griffin (photo by Shy)

Women of a Certain Age
by Gregory Bunker

Kourage Theatre’s double bill of Elaine May’s The Way of All Fish and Alan Bennett’s Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet showcases the wily wisdom of older women. Both of the 45-minute plays are dialogue-driven with little need for props or effects. Three women carry us through: Elva Mai Hoover and Tracy Rankin in The Way of All Fish and a solo performance by Nonnie Griffin in Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet. There are no clichés here: plot fixtures include push-up competitions and foot-derived orgasms.

She daftly, then deftly manoeuvers her plot to extract a raise

The Way of All Fish first presents a domineering, big-city boss who (gasp!) finds herself lonely in the office on a Friday night. A charitable dinner invitation to “order in” with her lowly secretary leads to the free flow of wine, revealing the secretary’s dark dream for fame: one that implies the demise of her boss. She daftly, then deftly manoeuvers her plot to extract a raise, but her boss proves to be a bigger fish to fry than she thought. It takes a while to get to the treasonous negotiation, but once the power play begins The Way of All Fish becomes a punchy and pleasantly unpredictable battle of will and wits.

After the 20-minute intermission, the tempo drops with the lighthearted Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet. The unmarried and middle-aged Miss Fozzard sees a new foot specialist after her beloved chiropodist moves away. Mr. Dunderdale becomes a charming distraction from her woeful work at a department store and her home life looking after her brain-injured, distant brother. The reserved Miss Fozzard laments that her life has not been one of excitement, but Mr. Dunderdale’s special attention to and appreciation of her feet—and what they can do for him—add some fancy footwork to her previous plodding through life.

The performances in both plays are outstanding. (Credit must also go to Beth Kates for the beautiful set and lighting in both pieces.) The chemistry between Elva Mai Hoover and Tracy Rankin evolves in a careful, cautious way; this is essential to the psychological sparring for the title of biggest fish. Nonnie Griffin’s solo performance is a real feat, expertly telling her story and assuming the roles of those who live in it. But the relaying of her story is also where Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet falls flat: without much movement on the stage, 45 minutes is too long for one person to carry a story. Perhaps this is a fault of my generation, but it was difficult to keep my attention focused on a single person for the entirety of the play. With her numerous character changes, if I’d missed a line I could have been quite lost. And as funny as the foot massage scene was, I can’t help but think that a real-life counterpart who is as dynamic as the wonderful Ms. Griffin could really put that scene over the top, and make the play less a story and more a show.

This double bill gives us unique, quirky storylines, superb production, and a focus on female perspectives that are sadly often absent in theatre. You’re advised not to skirt around this one.  

Both plays are 45 minutes long. There is a 20-minute intermission.
Presented by Kourage Theatre, runs to Sunday June 23 at Tarragon Theatre’s Extra Space. Evening performances are 8 PM and Sunday 2PM. Tickets.

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