Stranger to Hard Work is idiosyncratic Newfiness
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes
& the human voice & people gathered together.
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)
From the footlights : At just 18 years of age, Cathy Jones joined up with comedian Tommy Sexton and fellow Newfoundlander 21-year-old Mary Walsh plus a couple others to form the comic crew Cod Company a.k.a. Codco that showcased their silliness sporadically over the next decade. Until their self-deprecating Newfie humour and sociopolitical satire were scooped up by CBC t.v. to toggle opposite Kids In The Hall from 1987-1992. Jones and Walsh played sketchy characters such as the "Friday Night Girls" whose lives of tedium and aimless bus rides were positively Pinteresque in banality and nonsense. From there she helped found This Hour Has 22 Minutes with Walsh, Rick Mercer and Greg Thomey. Stranger To Hard Work is Jones' third one-woman show of self-exposing comedy she is famous for N. of 49. Fresh into her 7th decade of life, Jones relies on whimsy & post-menopausal pottymouth to drive her script.
WYSIWYG : Caricature. Embroidery. Hyperbole. Autobio-stuff limned with truthiness aimed at the audience's shits-&-giggles zone. Still, despite 40 years howling week-after-week as she and her comedy mates riffed on life, Jones admitted to CBC a year back she suffers "wobbly confidence" sometimes. So at 60 she decided put on stage a kind of self-help "book" particularly designed for the CPP/OAS crowd : "I think, like the Buddhists, there's a middle ground. And I think the human realm is about the middle ground. It's about there not being so much suffering that you can't take the time to work on yourself and that things not being so great that you also don't care about working on yourself," she told interviewer Natalie Dobbin.
What Jones's schtick brings to the stage : Cathy Jones is famous for comic sketches. Multiple characters mimicking their accents & idle banter is a staple in such shows. For Jones, it's nostalgia for Newfoundland and its generous but at times in-your-face local folk. Blunt jokes about her aging, slightly bulgy body that still dreams juicily of getting it on again after years as a single : anyone 30-something to 90-something will do, thanks, even "a 54-year-old who's had his first heart attack." The existential angst and quirky loneliness that come from being, she claims, a punctual procrastinator and social misfit. These are myriad mirror-moments for ticket buyers who on opening night were primarily Jones' vintage or, like me, a decade or more well past that. Reminiscent of the quip "The older I get the better I was."
Snippets & snatches : The book she imagines writing would be titled "Get Help! You Sick Fuck", but she quickly reassures the audience : "It's not for you, it's for the person who came with you!" Her cadence, clearly her own, nevertheless reminded me of singer Jann Arden when doing comic bits a la her Live With The VSO show. Funnin'. About herself and all the sillies she meets. The massage lady who instead of providing breathtaking news "like Donald Trump died last night or we're going to save the boreal forest", no, "apparently her husband has difficulty trying to buy shoes...".
Lamenting the decade's corner-turn, she refers to "60 years old, what I call The Nobody Wants You To Sit On Their Face Anymore years old", which brought down the house. Followed by a priceless crotch-slam at her ex- : "He thought sex was like doing the dishes : if you did it bad enough you wouldn't be asked to do it again." Jibes at snootish married Newfie friends who feel they need Conde Naste-style h'ors d'ouvres at house parties instead of basic earthy garden veggies. Too-familiar St. John's Tim Horton's staff selling her Roll Up The Rim coffees who demand to share her winnings. The upset gramma heard shouting at her grandson : "Nan loves you, honey, nan fukken loves you!"
Best-for-last was when she donned her trademark Miss Enid octogenarian outfit -- a character from THH22M played opposite Mary Walsh's equally hilarious Miss Eulalia. A terrific go at the St. Jude's Nursing Home she finds herself in follows. Still -- always -- horny, she drools over Brendan the male nurse who gets her cockles tittled : "Oh my god he brought tears to my eyes : if eyes could only cum oh. my. god...!"
Who gonna like : Clearly no stranger to hard work, Cathy Jones doing a string of stand-up squibs is true codfish and maple syrup and a double-shot of rye whisky all at once. Her comic wit is quintessential Canadiana across its 75 minutes that brings to mind not only the Codco & THH22M shows but is redolent of other downhome chummy English Canada variety gigs the country has loved from decades past like good ol' Don Messer's Jubilee. This is a Hudson's Bay blanket wrapped around a wet Newfie dog in front of a cackling fire. Not always even or 100% consistent in pace or content, Stranger To Hard Work is nevertheless a zingy tongue-in-cheek stand-up love song about growing older-ish in Canada. Jones fans will cheer gustily during the inevitable teary sentimental standing-o they give her.
Particulars : At Firehall Arts Centre (Cordova @ Gore, DTES). From September 28 - October 8. Schedules & reservations via by phoning Firehall Box Office @ 604.689.0926 during normal business hours or through their website firehallartscentre.ca.
Production crew : Written and performed by Cathy Jones. Directed by Ann-Marie Kerr. Stage Manager Jenny Kim. Young Man David Lees.