By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Welcome to the archive of lingering glances and lip-quivering gazes: troubled, dreamy, steamy, wistful, reflective, yearning, sultry, moody, sultry-moody crossover. Yes, the new season of Die-Nasty — “Die-Nasty does Dynasty,” makes Edmonton’s award-winning live improvised weekly soap opera a veritable adjective magnet.
Except, that is, when it comes time to say the word CAL-gry, a noun. And in season 27 of Die-Nasty it often comes time to say CAL-gry, the mythically alluring world-class city where oil byproducts rule, where beautiful people dream beautiful dreams, sleep with each other, slag Toronto, get rich, and stay that way.
I caught episode #2 on Monday night. CAL-gry has just landed the Winter Olympics. Bold plans for a world-class hockey arena in the shape of a saddle, or maybe a cowboy boot, are getting argued about. Sulky Dax Rochefort (the very funny Jesse Gervais), the owner of the Calgary Flames, has deep pockets, shallow ideas, an an amusing glum assistant (Jason Hardwick).
Dax has enlisted top-drawer architect Jason Waterfalls (Matt Alden) , who comes loaded with a full lexicon of Frank Lloyd Wright aphorisms. In a moving scene, we see him so stressed by “creative differences” that he cries his moustache right off while watching Terms of Endearment. Naturally, this creates the right moment for an ‘80s number of eye-watering intensity.
CAL-gry 1983: a perfectly sudsy place for a multi-talented improv crew like Die-Nasty’s that can flip into flashbacks, do musical production numbers, speak in poetry, have dance breaks, switch genres — as exhorted in excitable stage instructions provided by director Jeff Haslam in the inflammatory cadences of a sports announcer (it is CAL-gry, after all). It is perhaps no accident that the show finds itself on the Varscona stage on the starry and evocative set for Shadow Theatre’s Constellations, currently running every day other than Monday. CAL-gry, after all, is a cosmology of rocketing possibility and galactic self-reinvention.
In fact, Matilda Marble, a maid (Delia Barnett) employed by the Rocheforts, the richest family in CAL-gry, studies rocket science by correspondence. She stands dreamily on the balcony of the palatial Rochefort establishment, gazing at the sunset, and reflecting on her humble origins in Red Deer. Who would ever have thought…? she marvels, pondering the technicolour possibilities of a future in CAL-gry.
The Rocheforts — led by Tom Edward as a silver-topped Chaz and his glamorous (much younger) former EA and now fiancée Jewell (Stephanie Wolfe) — have it all. The Camemberts, led by the embittered Beef (Peter Brown), his unravelling lush wife Gini (Sheri Somerville), and their disaffected but aspirational daughter Vermouth (Shannon Blanchet) — who has a complicated past, as we glimpse in flashback — want it all.
The stakes are high. Desire, both illicit and licit, is starting to smoulder: was that a spark I saw between Dax Rochefort and his new young stepmother Jewell, as she tries on wedding dresses?
Speaking of flames, embers, etc., they’re fanned by such seductive outsiders as Chester Gardner (Vincent Forcier), a perpetually shirtless gardener with bedroom eyes and, er, movement vocabulary to match. Ah, yes, and high-contrast twin chauffeurs, Pony and Colt Maloney (Wayne Jones), the one prim and the other louche.
It’s a promising context for a big-cast season of bosom-heaving, nouveau-riche class warfare, twinkly bits on the clothes, thrilling weeper music (Paul Morgan Donald), and ruthless ambition, as big as the hair. Go, indulge your guilty soapy side. Die-Nasty runs every Monday at the Varscona.