By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Everything is Beautiful (La Cité francophone theatre)
Two old guys on a park bench: a study in contrast. One is a gloomy gus scowler; one is a determinedly chipper smiler. One accuses restaurant servers of purposely seating oldsters at the back to avoid reminding people of their mortality. One says he actually prefers to sit near the kitchen.
They’ve been needling, volleying barbs, and generally irritating the hell out of each other for 50 years. They are best friends. And what they play out, every time they meet you figure, is a sort of comedy of bad manners à la Neil Simon.
In this English adaptation of France Levasseur-Ouimet’s much-travelled Prends mes yeux, tu vas voir, two of franco-albertan theatre’s best-known actors, André Roy and Gilles Denis, tuck gleefully, and amusingly, into the fragments, interruptions, gestures, edits, asides that go into a long-standing friendship. And they have chemistry.
The play is built on a comical assortment of observations about old age — its physical humiliations, its social grievances, its neglect at the hands of a youth-worshipping culture — played on a loop. The characters have been around the block with each other’s stories. Jean, for example, consults an itemized history of his assorted infirmities and their outcomes. Cancer? “That story doesn’t get more interesting the more you tell it,” says Robert, unsympathetically.
But there’s heart, too, in happy shared memories too, doled out more grudgingly (one word: hockey). Gradually, in different ways, they admit to feelings of loneliness and exclusion. It’s poignant to realize that Robert (Roy), the grouchier one of the pair, comes to the park bench almost daily, hoping to catch a glimpse of his grandson in the schoolyard, his only connection.
Everything is Beautiful is a photo album of an old friendship, not a ground-breaking motion picture. But it does arrive at a question. How can two old guys remain current in a world where everyone is younger, and has a job or kids or both? That’s not the drift of things. Thinking young won’t quite do it. Jean, the sunnier one (Denis), has an idea. And it helps to have a pal.