By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
“You never have the full story when you’re in the middle of it,” says Drew (Chris Pereira), one-half of the beleaguered urbanite couple we meet at the outset of Bed and Breakfast.
In Mark Crawford’s funny, skilfully structured hit comedy, opening the Theatre Network mainstage season, Drew and Brett (Mathew Hulshof) will undertake to re-create and populate, for our benefit, their year of living dangerously — its antecedents, its crucial decisions, its seminal moments, its setbacks, its generational secrets uncovered.
It’s a year in which they sally forth from their teensy Toronto condo and their downtown rat race life (Brett is an interior designer, Drew a hotel manager) where they fit in. “We have become the people we hate,” says one. Since Brett’s late lamented auntie has willed him her big old heritage house in a picturesque small-town Ontario (where he’d spent his summers as a kid), they exit the big city. And they set about opening a bed and breakfast there, three hours out of their natural habitat.
“How hard can it be?” says Drew, in a line which is to comedy roughly what “I’ll check the fuse box in the basement” is to horror movies.
I know what you’re thinking (g-a-y-s-i-t-c-o-m, or gay Wingfield), right? So, is this the story of a brave can-do gay couple who triumph over small-town prejudice? The story of small-minded small-town bigots redeemed by (brave, etc.) gay city slickers? Or maybe the story of gay city slickers who drink soy latte macchiatos instead of coffee and get redeemed by the country idyll of Our Town, Ontario?
The surprise of Bed and Breakfast is that while it steps up and plays a little bit with all of the above tropes (there, I’ve gone and used that word), it subverts them all, too — and in wry, knowing ways you might not have predicted. It’s deceptively mild-mannered; there’s an edge to its charm. So when it goes poignant on you — and it does — you feel that’s earned.
As Bradley Moss’s production attests, there’s the big theatrical fun of watching two excellent, dexterous actors playing nearly two dozen characters between them: all ages, all genders, all sexual persuasions and occupations, octogenarians, drag queens, snarly gay-unfriendly contractors, bikers, real estate agents…. That’s a veritable barrage of quick transformations.
And there are virtuoso scenes — a committee meeting in the local cafe, a dinner party, and most memorably, the hysterical opening weekend — where multiple characters seem to occupy the stage simultaneously, and at farcical speed. Hulshof and Pereira are impressively precise about differentiating characters with a hand gesture, a facial grimace, an adjustment in posture or gait, speed or vocal cadence.
Moss’s production ricochets through Scott Peters’ allusive wooden set (with its burlap net walls, beautifully lit). The production relishes the scramble of it all, but leaves “relationship moments” space to breathe. It’s clear that the characters are channelled through the eyes of Brett and Drew as they remember their tumultuous year with its heartwarming ups and its genuinely disturbing downs. Christmas, as we know from the theatre, brings out the best, and the worst, in people.
The broadest comedy is reserved for the representatives of the real estate industry, each outrageous in their own way: the flamboyant Ray, and Carrie, a shriek-y gusher who talks in smiley-face winky-face emojis.
The most amusing characters, affectionately drawn by both playwright and actors, are a couple of teenagers. There’s taciturn nephew Cody (Pereira) who never stops eating, and responds to every conversational gambit with a shrug/ “I dunno” combo. Dustin (Hulshof), the son of the surly contractor who’s taken up baking, peppers everything liberally with “like.”
Nostalgia, as Brett will discover, is double-sided affair. There are the wrap-around porches and porch swings of youth, newspapers “made of actual paper,” the dream of Grover’s Corners, Ont. It’s a world that is vanishing into either the mists of time and/or cottage kitsch. And there are the family secrets buried in that past.
Bed and Breakfast weaves both into a fabric that speaks to the notion of what it means to find a family, and be home. And that’s something you never get on Hotwire.
Bed and Breakfast
Theatre: Theatre Network
Written by: Mark Crawford
Directed by: Bradley Moss
Starring: Mathew Hulshof, Chris Pereira
Where: Roxy on Gateway, 8529 Gateway Blvd.
Running: through Dec. 8
Tickets: 780-453-2440, theatrenetwork.ca