Fringe review: Myth of the Ostrich

Jennifer Spencer, Jenny McKillop, Jenna Dykes-Busby in Myth of the Ostrich. Photo by Mat Busby.

By Liz Nicholls,

Myth of the Ostrich (Stage 8, Old Strathcona Performing Arts Centre)

Weird, when you think about it, how much farces, roommate comedies, bonding sitcoms depend on strict, rigid conservatives. There’s got to be a reason for secrecy — for withheld information, for ever-more preposterous lies, for panic about getting found out.

Myth of the Ostrich, a three-woman 2014 comedy by Toronto’s Matt Murray, has Pam. She’s a prissy, old-fashioned die-hard conservative mother, organizer of Catholic Women’s League bazaars, submissive wife married to a controlling lawyer (omni-present, invisibly, at the end of a stream of cellphone calls), newly moved to Toronto. From Alberta, natch.

In a farce, Pam would get her comeuppance — like family-values cabinet ministers and right-wing financial critics — from hypocrisy. In this sitcom, Pam has to be protected by the other characters, from worldly knowledge that everyone onstage and in the audience does not find particularly risky.

Much depends on poor Pam. This is a way of saying that Myth of the Ostrich relies heavily — too heavily probably — on the charm of the actors and the playful energy of the production in committing to comic panic, zero to 60, out of thinnish fuel.

Kendra Connor’s Praise Doris production scores big on all of the above. And in the problematic but crucial role of the wife/mother out of another time who arrives at the apartment of a liberal big-city writer, Jenna Dykes-Busby is downright selfless in delivering a performance of round-eyed, child-like charm as butt and catalyst.

Jennifer Spencer, who commands a very funny range of deadpan and/or withering double-takes, is Holly the writer, struggling to finish her latest inspirational oeuvre at a laptop plastered, like her cluttered apartment, with post-its. The opening scene, her ritual for sitting down to write, is highly amusing (we struggling writers wince as we laugh). The arrival of a stranger, Pam, bearing a letter suggesting that Pam’s kid and Holly’s kid, teenagers, are, gasp, secretly dating — strictly against Pam and her husband’s house rules — elicits a shrug. From Holly and from the audience.

But wait, even thin sitcoms aren’t built on shrugs. There are future developments, another secret, or two. And there’s Holly’s friend Cheryl, a Newfie who’s in the play to be outrageous and breezy, and say things about sex, religion and men that are a dead certainty to shock Pam. Which is why you get the fun of seeing Jenny McKillop deliver a show-stopping comic performance.

Why Holly and Cheryl rise to panic is a question you need to put right out of your mind. And I can’t answer it anyhow. By then, the reactions of everyone in the play are over-inflated. It’s one thing to see conservatives panic. Liberal, worldly types are a harder sell in hyper-ventilation.

But the actors, all three, are game. They’re armed with funny lines, and chemistry, and timing. And that’s a lot.    

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