The Camrose Morning News is a small printed folder of announcements, ads, and pastimes. Something interesting caught my eye as I leafed through it at work, an invitation to a play. The Beaverhill Players, based in Holden AB, were putting on Meanwhile, Back on the Couch, by Jack Sharkey, and touring to Ryley and to the Bailey Theatre in Camrose (Nov 16th) as well as playing in Holden (Nov 2-3).
The tour opened in Ryley last night, as part of a celebration of local businesses. Nearly 200 people attended and enjoyed a delicious overflowing buffet provided by local caterer Grethe’s Kitchen. I don’t usually attend dinner theatre by myself (still haven’t made it to the Mayfield) but I enjoyed sitting at a table full of friendly people from all over the region, and I took moderate advantage of the cheapest theatre bar in Central Alberta. Door prizes, an ice-breaking game, and various business awards added to the fun.
Director Julianne Foster introduced the play, and the traditional stage drapes drew apart to reveal an art-deco-styled office suite with a cleverly-lit New York City skyline out the window. The skyline art was credited to Inez White. The main character, psychoanalyst Victor Karleen (Ernie Rudy) wants to publish a memoir of his cases so he can afford a Caribbean honeymoon with his fiancée (Debbie Perkins). But we soon see that he also wants to be a more successful author than his rival colleague (Ray Leiren). Add in a sassy nurse-receptionist (Laura Rudy), two quirky patients (Dave Maruszeczka and Inez White), a pompous publisher (Gary Kelly), and a college student neighbour on a scavenger hunt (Crystal Hedeman), and madcap hijinks begin to follow, because it’s that kind of farce. Hijinks include an eavesdropper falling into the room, someone undressing while someone else is turned away pouring drinks, and an awful lot of kissing. Jokes about predictable psychotherapists, single people, married people, and Reader’s Digest might have worked a bit better when the play was first performed in the early 1970s, but the audience still enjoyed them. I laughed a lot, as did the people around me.
Dave Maruszeczka was especially good, portraying Albert with an endearing consistent mixture of bewilderment and insistence. The pacing was good except for a few places where the script belabours things a bit. The blocking worked well for the small proscenium stage and everyone was easy to hear. There were three acts (two intermissions), and there was too much information about the plot in the act synopses in the program.
I would be recommending this whole-heartedly to anyone who likes community theatre and comedy, except for one jarring directorial choice. Laura Rudy’s nurse-receptionist character Miss Charlotte Hennebon was played in blackface makeup, with red lips, Afro wig, and eye-rolling, and with the exaggerated gestures of a stereotyped sassy African-American woman over 30. The actor’s impeccable delivery and timing would have made her scenes a lot of fun to watch, except that I was figuratively wincing in embarrassment every time I saw her. The Samuel French website listing casting requirements for each play they own says that this one has colourblind casting, and there is nothing in the text suggesting that a character of unmarked ethnicity or different ethnicity wouldn’t work. I believe that gratuitous blackface is inappropriate in 21st century Canada. The director and actor should rethink this choice before the remainder of the run.
After that warning and disclaimer, I will tell you that more information about acquiring tickets is at the Beaverhill Players website.