First, the brand spanking new Irving Greenberg Theatre: I was struck pleasantly by how much it felt like the old theatre at 910 Gladstone, from the same-level-as-the-front-row stage (“Please do not walk on the stage” is still an admonition to GCTC audiences) to the two-hundred-odd seat raked house, to the beside the stage left front of house entrance, to the open grid and black walls and shallow wings—it all has the same feel. But it is also magnificently different, with extremely more comfortable seating that has plenty of leg room, side aisles that do away with the extreme side seats at Gladstone, the capacious lofty lobby that releases audiences from having to spill into the streets at intermission to re-oxygenate in mid winter. And of course there is the cafe, the art gallery, with some intriguingly loose Ottawa scenes by Stuart Kinmond; I particularly liked the view of the Senate Library.
As one who bought a seat in the old theatre, I wonder if there will be a collection of the old seat-owners’ plates somewhere in the new theatre—it is a part of the history.
Now, the play, a take off on Gogol’s The Government Inspector.
This is a hoot. Colin Heath has produced a bright, witty script, and John Millard’s music is wonderful. Millard (who also played banjo, sang, and took some brief roles in the production) has a full sweet voice, and his score has considerable emotional range, from snappy comic to sincerely emotional. With one huge exception, Heath understands punchlines and flow, and exhibits a variety of styles, from comic melodrama to Gilbert and Sullivan patter to solid social criticism. If the script failed anywhere, it was the ending, which was a perfunctory throw away. The ending needed eithersome heavy planting of the character or some symbolic tie-in for the inspector. That has to be hard for a cast that has been so spectacular, to have to play a let-down like that just before the curtain call.
There were three parts to the cast: the comic principals, the musicians, and the chorus—obviously all three with different levels and types of comfort and competence on stage. The eight comic principals were all intense, slick professionals with impeccable timing and well-established craft. The musicians were wonderful musically, but a little uncomfortable on stage, although there were moments in which they played their discomfort for laughs, such as the cramped entry into the yellow room. The chorus was competent, but certainly not at the level of the principals. Several of their cameos were understated, particularly the entrance of the Inspector at the end, although that was more the fault of the script than the performer.
Pushing a huge moustache in front of him, Todd Duckworth kept his very intense character funny and very watchable. It was fun to see Beverley Wolfe in a sultry over-the-top role for a change; she played it to the hilt, deliciously, wickedly. Pierre Brault must have loved playing this sleezy, idiosyncratic magistrate, as the audience certainly enjoyed watching him. Paul Rainville’s stammering red-nosed clown was a catalyst for comic explosions, particularly when Wolfe read his stammering note (an interesting device, echoing the illiteracy gag in a previous version). Some time in the future, Sarah McVie should be cast as plastic woman: her face is so maleable; she used her facial and body expressions dynamically to milk laughs from Chloë’s passionate ingenue reactions to Sprat or his clothing. Ben Meuser played the duplicitous male antihero, Hector Sprat, with vigour and guile. Constant Bernard was surpising flexible for a huge man, and held his own with these seasoned pros.
All of the principals were in excellent voice. Some, such as Wolfe, you would expect to sing well; but I never cease to be amazed at the versatility of actors on our stages: when Brault and Duckworth and Rainville burst into song, I was delighted and amazed. I don’t know why I should be, but I was. Not only was the solo work well executed, but the delightful harmonies were a welcome addition to the rich potpourri of delight in this show.
Costumes were fun, especially Wolfe’s vampy clothes. I thought the pulled down hats of principals doubling as chorus were unnecessary: we knew who they were, and the hat trick was out of character.
I do have some gripes besides my concerns with the ending.
I was puzzled by the set. It is a series of mal-fitting blandly brown bad community theatre flats. Sets at GCTC have almost always been ingenious solutions to the very cramped space. We have seen water used effectively, raked floors, sand floors, extreme wall treatments like the memorable treatment for The Glace Bay Miners’ Museum, and so on. Here we have a home for GCTC that finally has adequate state of the art technical facilities, and we have something that I would despise if I saw it on a community theatre stage in boondocks oprey house in Woodsville Yukon. I pondered the issue as I waited for the play to start. Was this a clever ploy on the part of the designer, which would fly away to reveal the real set? Alas, it was not to be. This was the real set. I can see why details such as real moldings would get in the way of folding back the walls, but why the horrible neutral colours, the amateurish painting? Even if it was a trick to make Salmon River look, like Hicksville, it didn’t work. It made the Irving Greenberg Theatre look like Hicksville. It didn’t work.
The lighting disappointed me. First, there were the bright stage instruments flooding into the eyes of the audience for house lighting before and after the play and during intermission. Change the angle and reduce the intensity, please! It certainly hurt my eyes. Second, the lighting of the whole play was not comic lighting. The characters were not carved out from the set by the illumination; rather they tended to meld into it, making it harder for the actors to effectively work their shtick. Back lighting or even tips can overcome this problem.
One comment on pacing. The show moved along very well; however, there were many points at which I felt the urge to applaud after a musical number, but the action resumed before there was a chance. An audience will warm up if it can applaud at such a show.
In many ways, an auspicious start for GCTC in its new home.
Some final comments: parking is a delight, as long as you are early enough; I wonder how long there will be no parking meters in that area? The coloured glossy program was a departure, and it featured the director’s photo for a change. The seats are comfortable, with lots of leg room, the theatre is still intimate. Restaurants in the area may be a problem: if you eat somewhere else, you may have trouble parking just before theatre time. We had supper at Petit Bill’s Bistro three blocks west: the service was pretty good, the waiters were enthusiastic; the presentation was creative, my chicken entree was very nice, although the veggies were bland, the coffee was just very warm, and my tiramisu was fairly tasteless mush. Others at our table liked their home made pies.
Performance viewed: Thursday October 25, 2007, 8 pm
Running time (including intermission—yes!!): a substantial two hours, ten minutes.
The Great Canadian Theatre Company presents
The Man From The Capital
Book and Lyrics by Colin Heath
Music by John Millard
Adapted from The Government Inspector by Nikolai Gogol
Directed by Jennifer Brewin
Musical Director: John Millard
Choreographer and Assistant Director: Courtenay Dobbie
Set Designer: Scott Windsor
Costume designer: Sue Fijakowska
Lighting Designer: Martin Conboy
Stage Manager: Kevin Waghorn
Assistant Musical Director & Rehearsal Pianist: MArk Ferguson
Assistant Lighting Designer: Mark Rieger
Apprentice Stage Manager: Natalie Lobb
Artemus Fox: Constant Bernard
Amos Blight/Waiter: Pierre Brault
Ira Trout: Todd Duckworth
Chloë Trout: Sarah McVie
Hector Sprat/Postmaster: Ben Meuser
Robert Bobchinsky: John Millard
Willy Flinch: Paul Rainville
Daphne Trout: Beverley Wolfe
Trumpet: Chris Lane
Banjo: John Millard
Tuba: Angela Steele
Accordion: Laurie Rosewarne
University of Ottawa Student Chorus:
Maxime Briére, Anthony Biggs, David Dacosta, Greg Delmage, Bryony Etherington, Heather-Claire Nortey
Louise Hayden, Kirk Bowman, Rob Lucas, Narron Fijakowska, Dave Muir, Stephanie Dakmer, Kevin Kinny . . .