Only on PEI in Harbourfront’s Lights, Camera, Island!

0

A Review by Cindy Lapeña

What happens when big time movie stars from Toronto come to small town PEI to shoot a film? To find out, you really have to see Island author Karen Slater’s Lights, Camera, Island! The Harbourfront Players’ latest offering is a charming comedy that had just the right mix of Island humour and sentimentality. It’s a full-blooded Island production that can only be pulled off by an Island cast and crew. It’s great community theatre that no one will appreciate more than Islanders, as evidenced by the laughter and enjoyment elicited from a highly appreciative opening night audience. Harbourfront Theatre’s relatively new Executive Director Kieran Keller welcomed the audience back to what promises to be a wonderfully entertaining season and it was good to come back and be welcomed by Slater’s ribald slice of Island life.

What makes the script more delectable is how Slater adopted the classic plot of cross-dressing and mistaken identities, not unlike Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or What You Will. That, coupled with your friendly countryside folk and the small town gossip mill, became the grist for Lights, Camera, Island! While anyone will enjoy the classic humour, only islanders will immediately pick up on certain jokes such as the gasps and the real reason for the big surprise kitchen party. That said, more of the jokes would have had greater impact if there were much quicker pick-up between lines. Or is that an Island thing as well? One sign of experienced stage actors is how well they are able to ad lib when they forget lines or cues and there is no dead air between lines. Nonetheless, recovery was successful, the audience clearly overlooked those few moments, and a good night was still had by all.

Director Marlane O’Brien must have had as much fun as I hear the cast and crew did while rehearsing this play, which they started working on in workshops, until it finally shaped up into this rollicking piece. What gave the performance that great community theatre flavour is probably the fact that the cast was not comprised of professional actors, just a big group of friends having great fun together. It’s completely plausible some added humour came from the mixed identities that extended to a general confusion in almost interchangeable names of two brothers and brother-like cousin—who sometimes reminded me of the Three Stooges—that added to the merry mix-up that became all the more confusing until it was all sorted out in the end. It’s the kind of play I would have loved to be part of!

###

Advertisements

So Glad for the Plaids

0

by Cindy Lapeña

                  Once again, director Catherine O’Brien delivers an outstanding production of a show that can only be one of the most entertaining trips down memory lane in Forever Plaid. In tandem with musical director Patrick Burwell, who cameo-ed as the “pianist that came with the room” and requires a union “smoke” break every hour or so, O’Brien has brought together an astounding quartet of male actors to deliver standards from the 50s with the same hip, hurray, and huzzah of the “guy groups” of the 50s, reminding us of the clean cut and harmless ivy league look that our parents or grandparents preferred.

Rather than being a play, however, this performance is really a musical revue with a bit of talking between the 29 songs, during which the audience learns bits and pieces of the quartet’s lives before their fatal accident. The humour sometimes borders on the hilarious, picking up more as the show goes on, while the reminiscing and sentimentality are very well handled and never quite become maudlin.

The four cast members, while very youthful, bring an impressive wealth of stage experience to the Harbourfront Theatre. More than that, they bring amazing voices that blend in perfect harmony punctuated by originally funny choreography that highlights the comicality of missteps and forgotten steps that were most certainly practiced but were delivered with natural spontaneity.

Mark Allan, performing in PEI for the first time, plays Frankie, who seems to be the leader and the main motivator of the quartet, and sings in a beautifully clear tenor. Since I first came to PEI and began watching performances, I have watched Ian Cheverie mature as an actor and a singer and as Jinx, his baritone/tenor voice can be soft and sweet or powerful and belting. Nathan Carroll is another borrowed talent, whose energy and expressiveness stand out in the character of Sparky. I must say his stage antics and tenor remind me of another excellent actor who is a friend of mine, and it almost felt like I was watching my friend when I was watching Nathan. Last, but not the least, Sam Plett is also a visitor to the PEI stage who will always be welcome with his amazing baritone/bass voice, in the role of Smudge, who could very well be dyslexic. Besides being a magnificent singing quartet, each of the players brought other curious talents to the stage—from juggling balls to playing a mouth organ, to playing the piano. Needless to say, each song is an act in itself and extremely entertaining. Too bad that some of the wit and humour in the dialogue and stage business was lost on the audience. My favourite number? The Ed Sullivan show in 3 ½ minutes, because of the skill, perfect timing, energy, and enthusiasm it was performed with.

The only thing that might have helped create better focus was, perhaps, to reduce the size of the stage a tad bit—possibly drawing the curtains in up to where the legs ended so that it would seem like a more intimate set, especially when the quartet separated into different corners of the stage, preventing the viewer from seeing all the actors at the same time. Nonetheless, the majority of numbers did make the use of most of the stage, and the lighting helped concentrate the audience’s focus on the actors.

It’s too bad that the show doesn’t draw a full house every performance, because it is the type of show that would be great fun with a larger audience. Still, I would definitely see this show with this particular cast again and again because their music will never get tiring!

-30-