Saturday 20 June 2015

Comfort Cottages cute-&-comfy fun

Backdrop to the show : You are in grammar school. You and three chums put on a summer show for the folks that you wrote. They cheer, you're proud, the four of you traipse off to Camp Tikahana together for more adventures. One of you's an organizer, a future vice-principal. The second a steal-the-limelight type. The third more whimsical, a nature-lover. The last of your pals is the mediator, the healer, always sees the glass-half-full. You are "sisters" and stay that way all your lives.

Now freshly retired, single through choice or widowhood, you are facing the angst and lonelinesses. Not always well. Finding money for rent is a monthly struggle. Even living in your van is an option you are forced into. Then there's the "meaning" piece. "I thought the freedom of retirement would be liberating but I just feel unplugged," is the way vice-principal Katherine (Merrilyn Gann) puts it. 

Turns out Katherine's Aunt Kitty for 40 years ran a truck-stop brothel with six cottages where truckers and salesman would repair for a night's, uh, repair. The "No-Tell Motel" one of you quips. Kitty's lawyer says the place will be sold for condos and the profits assigned to the Truckers Benevolent Society unless Comfort Cottages continue to receive their habitual guests for a year. You three buddies convince Katherine you'll help her do just that by each of you making one of the cabins your own for 12 months. And deal with the visitors who come knockin'. If y'all last the year, Katherine promises she'll split the profits from any future sale of the motel property evenly among the four of you.

Such is the what and how of Western Gold Theatre's studio production of Comfort Cottages after only three days (!) of rehearsal starting this past Tuesday. Fully blocked and costumed and set, the production has its characters perform their parts scripts-in-hand. Their challenge is to make the folks in those scripts become real to playgoers through their characterizations. It's like looking in a mirror -- you're back in the backyard in the 50's doing a summer show, all over again, just for the folks, just for the fun of it.

WYSIWYG :  Dramatic and situational irony works throughout this original script written by career thespians Jane Clayton and Judy Ginn Walchuk. The play's fun is how The Four Chums greet and treat Aunt Kitty's former guests / clients who don't know Kitty has gone to geisha heaven. The women don't just kick the men out, of course, else there'd be no play. As the snoopy ex-mall cop widower next door notes : "These ain't girls here. They haven't been girls since Elvis left the building!" So it's the stories and expectations and surprise benign couplings among them all that develop that keeps the audience guessing how this new co-ed camp of Chums and its aging lothario men visitors can quite possibly survive.  

Dialogue, nuance & direction rule : In the hands of WGT's artistic director Anna Hagan, the cast of nine season'd pro's do a remarkable job of getting and projecting these characters who after 16 script re-writes over the past year are well-wrought characters indeed by Clayton and Walchuk (who were coached and assisted in that marathon adventure by both Hagan and dramaturge Dave Deveau). Were one to attend blindfolded, the play would seem a well-rehearsed radio script with quite distinct and identifiable persona who engage the imagination believably. But being able to watch them all interact, meanwhile, only heightens the fun. 

To single any performer out is perhaps unfair to the rest of the company, but Wendy Abbott as the ex-dancer / limelight-stealer Flo with her rolling rack of slinky shiny costumes was a giggle and a charm all night long. And when cross-dressing Simon (Terence Kelly) slips into Flo's gowns and becomes Simone, the outright guffaws cannot be stifled for a second. Marlee Walchuk as Belle, the mediator and cookie maven, was not only utterly convincing in her acting, her role particularly was nailed squarely by the writers.  Sgt. Tom, the camouflaged ex-mall cop (Keith Martin Gordey), was an impish goofy caricature who talked to his wife Ange's ashes in the silver urn he carried with him constantly as he snooped and spied and plinked his ukulele.

Who gonna like : If like me you are a lifelong lover of live theatre. If like me you appreciate the paths mapped and charted by live theatre's elders. If like me you are what the local civic fitness centre calls a "junior senior" and are fresh into the many unknowns of retirement. Regardless of your age, if any one of these criteria applies to you, you'll have a couple hours fun, sport and amusement -- as well as overt appreciation -- for what the WGT performers and production crew have managed to pull together in such an engaging way in just half-a-week's time. Two shows each tomorrow and Sunday to take it in.

Particulars : Original script by Performing Arts Lodge creators Jane Clayton and Judy Ginn Walchuk. A Western Gold Theatre production performed at the PAL theatre, 581 Cardero Street in Coal Harbour. Matinees June 20-21 @ 2 p.m.  Evening curtain @ 7:30 p.m. June 20-21. Box office 604.363.5734 or tix via 

Production crew : Director Anna Hagan.  Set Design Glenn MacDonald & R. Todd Parker.  Costume Design "The Cast".  Lighting Design Graham Ockley.  Sound Chris Allan.  Stage Manager Ashley Noyes.  Assistant Stage Manager Andy Sandberg.

Performers : Wendy Abbott.  Sean Allan.  Linda Carson.  Merrilyn Gann.  Jim Hibbard.  Terence Kelly.  Keith Martin Gordey.  Brendan McClarty.  Marlee Walchuk.  


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