By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Don’t Frown At The Gown (Stage 12, Varscona Theatre)
A monster mother stands like a Colossus (in size 13 pumps) astride the latest from Guys in Disguise, Don’t Frown At The Gown, by the team of Darrin Hagen and Trevor Schmidt.
Mrs. Janice Fowler (Hagen) isn’t just old school in a girdle and party dress and those pointy cats’-eye glasses. She’s the Principal of old school. Mrs. Fowler, life coach/enforcer, is not a woman to be trifled with, or diverted in any way from her two cosmically appointed tasks: to maintain the old school social proprieties best exemplified by ‘60s Suburbia, and to have complete control of the upcoming wedding of her daughter Susan (Schmidt) in every particular. Ideally, with no input whatsoever from the terrorized bride-to-be, or Susan’s more resistant best friend and maid-of-honour Frankie (Jason Hardwick).
Mrs. Fowler, a sort of middle-brow suburban Lady Bracknell, has sailed into “a sacred space,” Lady Laura Lee’s Bridal Belle Boutique, with the two girls in tow, for a final fitting and accessorizing. When confronted with Frankie’s news that she’s landed a job as “weather girl on the Channel 2 news,” Mrs. Fowler is aghast, . “You know what kind of women end up on TV?” she thunders. “Actresses. Or worse.”
And she’s taken aback, too, by the mysterious Lady Laura Lee herself (Jake Tkaczyk), who’s unapologetically single and owns her own business, and who pointedly asks the rabbity Susan an outlandish question: “What would make you happy?”
These temporary setbacks don’t prevent Mrs. Fowler from delivering herself of a long speech about womanly duties, such as cleaning, baking, and sex. If there’s a paradox about being an authority on submitting to authority, Mrs. Fowler doesn’t notice. She’s played with aplomb and considerable eyebrow involvement by Hagen.
The thing is, weddings and traditional views on the proper role of women as adjuncts to their husbands aren’t exactly a dangerous satirical target any more, to say the least. There are droll asides, as always, in the writing, and puns and sight gags to savour. But the turf seems awfully well-travelled. While entertainingly performed (and costumed), the play itself seems thinner and more repetitive than its hit predecessors.
In one way, of course, the actors needn’t be men. In another way, that gives a special resonance to Lady Laura Lee’s pep talk to the glum outcast Frankie, who isn’t drawn to marriage and suburbia, just to Susan. There’s “a new kind of modern woman,” approaching, says the bridal shop owner. She’s absolutely right. And the collected oeuvre of Guys in Disguise is vivid proof.