By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
It’s 1983. And world-class cities don’t come any world-classier than the one down the road.
Yes, it’s in the gleaming cloud-capp’d towers of Calgary, that fabled Shangri-La of wealth and power and world classiness, oiled by, er, oil, that Die-Nasty finds the setting for its 27th annual season of weekly improvised soap opera.
“Die-Nasty meets Dynasty,” as billed, in this homage by Edmonton’s Canadian Comedy Award-winning improv company to the steamy suds of prime-time TV soaps. As you read this, a new re-boot of Dynasty, the iconic ‘80s series set amongst the oil aristocracy of Denver, has started to air. And the ensemble of deluxe improvisers has taken note, says Die-Nasty’s Jeff Haslam, who directs Monday’s season launch at the Varscona.
Which brings us to the pneumatic attractions of ‘80s Calgary (say it breathless and awestruck, CALgary!, the way Haslam does). With its delusions of grandeur — ladies and gentlemen, I give you such Calgary ‘hoods as The East Village and Tuscany — it’s prime for “funny acting,” laughs Calgary-born Haslam, who remembers taking the bus downtown as a kid just so he could ride the skyscraper elevators up and down.
“What struck me was that in a lot of TV series, the average length of a scene is three minutes; with Die-Nasty, Falconcrest,The Colbys, Dallas, Knot’s Landing and the rest, the average length is six minutes! And that’s a lot more dialogue! A lot more slow burns, close-ups, smouldering glances, threatening looks, fights….”
Die-Nasty has parodied TV soap opera before now, but of the daytime variety. The stakes are bigger at night, Haslam points out. And their casts are peppered with already movie stars just a bit past their best-before date, like John Forsythe, Jane Wyman, Barbara Stanwyck. “And they bring a sort of grandeur to the acting that\e made their shows hits….”
After all, “big ‘40s-style movie acting on a small screen looks even bigger,” he says happily of a style as large as the shoulder pads. “We all remember the women more than the men…. There’s a certain pluminess of the vowels. It’s just not naturalistic acting by any stretch…. These are people who have been in Wuthering Heights. Now they bring the same kind of intensity to ‘meet me for a glass of white wine, in (breathless pause) Kensington, across the bridge (breathless pause) from Memorial Drive’.
For their epic struggles of bedroom and boardroom, there’s a wealth of ‘80s reference points at the disposal of the Die-Nasty crew: “‘clubs with names like Scandals, the Husky Tower, the awarding of the Winter Olympics to Calgary, the Saddledome….” In fact, as of last Monday’s brainstorming meeting, Matt Alden has thoughts of playing an architect, the one who designed that iconic Calgary hockey palace.
The basic infrastructure on which the company will hang Monday night episodes through May 28 is two families in lethal competition, in the bedrooms and boardrooms of the glorious oil-rich city. Meet Calgary’s richest family the Rocheforts, with their fortune in oil by productions, and their deadly rival clan the Camemberts, money and influence grubbers scrambling for a foot up.
Plans so far include Tom Edwards as Rochefort grand fromage Chaz, who has certain unmistakeable John Forsythe vibe, with Stephanie Wolfe as his former secretary (and new wife) Jewel, and Belinda Cornish as his new secretary Amber Stilton. Let images of Linda Evans waft over your memory. Davina Stewart is thinking of playing Chaz’s ex-wife Alexis Rochefort-Velveeta, à la Joan Collins.
One Rochefort son, Dax (Jesse Gervais) runs the entire Rochefort operation, and also owns the Calgary Flames — with personal assistant Clay Manchego (Jason Hardwick). The other son, estranged from his dad, is Dr Rex Rochefort (Mark Meer), who runs a charity offering plastic surgery to the homeless.
Everything could change in the playing, of course. But the Camemberts include Sheri Somerville and Peter Brown. Wayne Jones plays twins, chauffeurs to both families.
Nobody knows how the cheese will melt. It’s all improvised, after all. It’s all improvised. But as the series suds up, expect to see ruthless treachery, intrigue, mullets, wheeling and dealing, seductions, betrayals, viral greed. All good unwholesome fun!
Die-Nasty, the live improvised soap opera
Director: Jeff Haslam and members of the company
Where: Varscona Theatre, 10329 83 Ave.
Running: Monday Oct. 23 through May 28, except Dec. 25 and Jan. 1
Tickets: at the door