Review: Earshot by Morris Panych

NAC Studio Series Feburary 14 – 25, 2006

Written by and original direction by Morris Panych
Starring Randy Hughson

Set and Costume Design by Ken MacDonald
Staging for this revival by Jim MacMillan
Sound Design and Production by Derek Bruce
Lighting Design by Andrea Lundy
Stage Managed by Phonda Kambeitz

The last few professional plays I have seen have caused me to wonder if even professional theatre is worth an hour on the road each way. I was beginning to wonder if the artistic directors selecting the plays had lost their collective minds. Fortunately, Panych’s play was worth every kilometre. It was witty, visually engrossing, and the crucial sound plot was remarkable.
I have seen several one man shows in the last couple of years: Pierre Brault’s tour de force Blood on The Moon first produced at the Ottawa Fringe Festival by Sleeping Dog Theatre, then for two summers in NAC Studio followed by a tour of Ireland; Brault’s more recent and not so successful Portrait of an Unidentified Man; Doug Wright’s Pulitzer Prize winning I Am My Own Wife (another wasted trip); and Earshot. I have been wondering what made some one man shows astonishingly good and others disappointingly ineffectual. My sneaking suspicion was confirmed this afternoon: besides bravura performances, it is obvious that the successful shows had superb design and execution: sound, set, and lighting.
Let’s examine why this is so. A play in which one performer occupies the stage for up to two hours really needs all the help it can get; I defy anyone to stand alone in front of an audience and entertain for two hours without any tech. I saw it once at GCTC a few years ago, and it was not pretty. Blood on the Moon benefitted from the lighting genius of Martin Conboy and the superb soundscape of Marc Desormeaux. The sound and lighting for Unidentified and Wife were lacklustre at best.
Aside about I am My Own Wife: One of the major flaws of this conception is that there is precious little tension possible when the Nazi threatening physical harm to a tranvestite and the transvestite herself are played by the same actor. Duh!
Earshot is a play about an afflicted man who lives alone in an apartment surrounded by five neighbours whose every sound he hears accutely because he has hypersensitive ears: he can hear the woman next door pulling on her nylons. Because it is about sound, sound design and execution are critical. And they were superb.
But the play has some other things going for it: an absurdly twisted set with a distorted perspective that makes the main character look like a giant when he is upstage. The set is crammed with the debris of a messy bachelor; for example, he casually tosses wet teabags at the mirror when he has made his tea: the mirror and surrounding wall are littered with old teabags stuck there. The script is full of deliciously ironic wit: every death reference or even death itself has a twist too good to reveal here.
Randy Hughson is a delight: physical, lyrical, spanning moods, tones, acrobatics — and it all works. A wonderful play that the audience obviously enjoyed.
Observation: the concept of a person with acute hearing seems closely allied to the affliction of autism. Here is a man for whom the sense of hearing is so dominant that it rules his whole life, almost to the exclusion of everything else.

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About riverwriter

Poet, playwright, duplicate bridge player, website designer, cottager, husband, father, grandfather, former athlete, carpenter, computer helper for my friends, theatre designer, backstage polymath, retired teacher of highschool English, drama, art, a baritone singer in a barbershop quartet, who knows what else? wordcurrents is on Facebook: Doug also has a Facebook page, "Incognitio", related to his novels.
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