It is not often that we see a community theatre production run extended. I was very pleased to return from my trip this weekend to discover that Vagabond Theatre has decided to repeat its very successful production of this play on November 19th and 20th, because that will give more people a chance to see how good community theater can be.
The play is about a couple who meet for a weekend of sex and romance once a year in the same hotel room each time. They are married, just not to each other. We don’t see every liaison; rather, we get to see them once every five years more or less, from 1951 to 1975. This production has a lot going for it: the script is witty and engaging, the production values are very high, and the two actors in the principal roles are really good at what they are doing.
It is a well-known principle of comedy that, to be funny, the actor must take the role seriously enough to believe it; that is, the actor must try not to be funny but to tell the truth, and if the script is well-written, it will work and be funny. Director Michael Togneri certainly understands this principle, and Nancy Munro and Jean Léger have demonstrated that they really understand it too. They both take their characters very seriously and present them as real people who have real chemistry between them. The result is a comedy with depth, passion, and humour. I have had the misfortune to sit through more bad comedies than I would like to admit, many of them taking place in “professional” theatre settings, where the director and the actors were trying so hard to be funny that the result was embarrassing. It is nice to see what can be produced by someone who knows how comedy works; but then, I have always come to expect that any play directed by Michael Togneri will be excellent, and with this play, his string of rather spectacular successes is unbroken.
As you may imagine, a play that requires that the actors depict intimacy requires that they discard any hangups they may have been behave in such a way that the audience will believe they are indeed intimate, and get on with becoming immersed in their drama. This also requires a solid relationship between the director and his actors for he is at once confidante and voyeur.
I am pleased to say that the chemistry in this relationship works very well. George (Jean Léger) and Doris (Nancy Munro) become very real people involved in a very real relationship. It was easy to become involved along with them, to empathize with their stories, and their news, to see their lives develop, their relationships at home change, and to be taken in by the clever twists that playwright Bernard Slade arranges to entertain us.
I was impressed by the skill of both actors: the characters changed significantly through the play, requiring the actors to employ a broad range of tone, emotion and attitude. As an audience member I became very confident that what I was watching was exactly what they wanted me to see. I consider that to be quite an achievement.
The facility, at Dream Builders Studios, seems to have become what the community had hoped the Weave Shed Arts Centre would have become: a performance-friendly space that is also comfortable for the audience. I hope that Vagabond Theatre will be able to continue in this space as it certainly seems to fit.
The set, which I believe was already in place having been used by Dream Builders Studios, was certainly well-designed and natural. The ingenious window, which doubled as a slide show during the very slick set changes, was effective in setting the scene both geographically and historically.
I liked the costumes and hair work for both characters, as they were significant elements of establishing the atmosphere of each scene. Backstage must have been interesting as its own form of theatre, particularly since the crew must be so silent in such an intimate space.
I was impressed by the printed program which made wonderful use of full-length photographs of the cast and crew and depicted them in what might be described as an etched form instead of halftone. This made it very easy to see even small details and I congratulate Adrian Black on the design and layout.
The bottom line is that this is a really well constructed production. Everything works. It certainly does deserve an extended run. Some advice to the audience: although several rows of seats are on risers, row two is directly behind and at the same level as row one. You might want to arrive soon after seven thirty when the doors open to assure yourself of a good seat as tickets are general admission only. The show started at exactly 8 pm, as advertised.
Production reviewed: November 12, 2010 8 pm. Running time: two hours 20 min. including one intermission.
Vagabond Theatre presents Same Time Next Year by Bernard Slade
Doris: Nancy Munro
George: Jean Léger
Producer/Stage Manager: Micheline Lacasse
Director: Michael Togneri
Technical Director: Dan Youmelle
Audio/Visual: Mike MacAnany
Set Design/Construction: Brian Fourney
Properties: Denny’s Archambault, Betty & Lloyd Chaput, Laurie Manzer
Wardrobe/Dresser: Lois Scammell
Dresser: Pat Haaksman
Hair: Natasha MacFarlane
Prompter: Josette Leduc
Poster/Program: Adrian Black
Advertising: Ashley McCool
Promotion: Brian Lynch