By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
“I’m concerned about our ability to function outside the academic world,” says Julia, a ballroom dance major at the University of Continental North America, to her childhood friend Markus, who’s in philosophy.
The college pals are on the eve of graduation into the big wide world where life begins, and choices have to be made. Four years of college education have buffed their analytical skills. And, as Stewart Lemoine’s sad and funny 1993 coming-of-age comedy Shocker’s Delight! reveals, in its strangely resonant way, applying them to something as unmapped, unknowable, and bruisable as the human heart … well, it can produce the most startling and painful results.
The word Julia tosses off, brightly, in this lovely Teatro La Quindicina season finale revival, is “unfathomable.” We are, she says, “floating over unfathomable depths.” And she’s right. One of the many things Ron Pederson’s production gets so hilariously and heartbreakingly right is the disconcerting discovery, by all three ‘50s characters, that in the laboratory of real life, syllogisms backfire, philosophical deductions go on detours, and metaphors have a way of returning to haunt you. Life is both simpler and more complicated than you think when you’re thinking.
All three characters? The third is a passerby. Rory (Richard Lee Hsi) is a golf major, hailed randomly by Marcus — mainly because there is no reason not to — as he and Julia banter, wittily, about whether the logical next step for her is to look for a husband. Rory has no reason to reject Julia; he doesn’t even know her. And for his part Marcus dismisses the idea of marrying Julia himself,. “I’ve known you too long…. I’d be your husband and you’d have no friends left at all.”
Stevens and Piatocha have a very amusing and natural buddy chemistry, full of whimsy, as a bickering couple of long standing. “Do you think my single-mindedness limits my prospects?” Julia demands.
This playful experiment in intellectual clarity ends up in something emotionally fraught and chaotic: a love triangle. Tears will be shed. A calamity involving a golf ball will interpose itself. Panic will be unleashed; accommodations will be made after intermission.
This is comic sparkle with slivers. And there’s consolation to be found in art, the elegant simplicity of Biedermeier furniture (Marcus’s chief consolation), or dance (Rory talks about the “grace” of harmonious partnerships), or the Schubert piano music that wafts through the piece.
Hell, or even golf. In one scene, Rory addresses, as a formal college presentation, the pressing question of which is more important to the success of a golf swing? The grip or the stance? And he opts for the one that doesn’t change, that gives you a fixed point from which to be creative. You’ll need to hold that thought.
Pederson, who played Marcus himself in a 2004 revival of Shocker’s Delight!, has assembled a captivating trio of young actors. Piatocha is a delight as the impulsive, alert, quick-witted romantic heroine, forthright in all matters but discombobulated by the waywardness of her own heart.
There are perfectly judged performances, too, from Stevens as her sassy pal Markus whose devolution into confusion will break your heart; and Hsi as the baffled but bemused Rory, the third party co-opted by the others, scrambling to keep up, and in the end standing up with grace and fortitude to the competing claims of love and friendship.
Together these actors negotiate the extreme oddities of the structure: the formal extended academic “lectures” that happen from time to time and play against Lemoine’s amusingly offhand dialogue and sweet romantic moments. The essay — remember those? — is the way college kids are schooled to grapple with meaning — in a way that’s absurd and kind of admirably serious.
The play is affectionate about that, as Pederson’s spirited, playful but unforced production reveals; the weight of it seems just right. As do Matthew Alan Currie’s romantic lighting, the grave outsized academic pillars of Chantel Fortin’s set, and the fun of Leona Brausen’s ‘50s costumes.
“The prospect of regret makes the future seem like a bit of a pain, doesn’t it?” ponders Marcus. That’s the wistfulness of the view from the graduation threshold. Rory on the other hand argues that “there’s a future in everything….” And this season finale lets you stand with characters there, musing on the what’s next and the might-have-been.
Theatre: Teatro La Quindicina
Written by: Stewart Lemoine
Directed by: Ron Pederson
Starring: Melanie Piatocha, Ben Stevens, Richard Lee Hsi
Where: Varscona Theatre, 10329 83 Ave.
Running: through Oct. 14