By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
A Lesson in Brio (Stage 12, Varscona Theatre)
The verdict is out on whether charm or perfect pitch, any more than a first-rate digestion, can be learned. But Stewart Lemoine’s A Lesson Brio, very timely in these glum times, proposes that brio can. And along with brio, its mystery corollary, charisma.
What delightful news. A lively and charming lecturer Dr. Guinevere (Jenny McKillop) beams at us from the empty stage, and explains that she’s a scholar (with a PhD) in these matters. And she assures us that “no theatrical artifice has been employed” in her step-by-demo of how brio (the contagious animation that attracts other people and changes lives) might be acquired.
This, of course, is completely (and hilariously) untrue). But A Lesson in Brio is so sly and smart, so artful about the ways it plays on either side of the fourth wall, that theatre jokes are effortlessly part of the comedy.
You will enjoy the way Dr. Guinevere’s assistants — yes! played by real actors, surely the only way to “do” real life! — step in and out of their roles to present revealing scenes. Not least the “the part of the audience volunteer” played by Patricia (Patricia Cerra).
The demo subject Ric, played by actor Mathew (the highly amusing Mathew Hulshof), would seem to be an difficult test case for Dr. Guinevere’s methodology. Not only is he listless (for reasons that will be revealed), but he is outstandingly dumb, too dumb too know he’s dumb. And when he’s kicked out of the car by his girlfriend Destiny on the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan for being dumb, the wheels for his reclamation into a more joyful life are set in motion.
The performances by actors playing actors playing test subjects are very funny; Lemoine is at his wittiest. And the situations set up in the play for resolution by Dr. Guinevere will make you laugh out loud. A sublime open-mike scene in Lloydminster — by no means a frequent location, I would hazard, for comic scenes that are out-and-out show-stoppers — stars Rachel Bowron as Rachel playing a singer-songwriter. Ditto flashbacks in which Dr. Guinevere revisits her formative childhood years, when she restored joy and the will to live to her widowed father in a series of educational initiatives that include conversational Welsh.
Wistfulness be gone. Finally, a comedy that’s actually about how to be more lighthearted and joyful. And it works!