By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
“You aren’t a very interesting patient,” says the psychiatrist (Mark Meer) to the imperturbable woman on the consultation couch (Jocelyn Ahlf) in The Crazy Woman, one of the six short plays in the Lost Lemoine Part 1 collection. “You accept everything. You deal with things.”
Developments ensue. It’s a quixotic little comedy of reversal (two reversals, actually), less than 10 minutes long and complete in itself, that starts an on-screen theatrical entertainment.
What follows are five more petite comic gems, models of compression, some of them sitcom spoofs, some sharp-eared genre homage/parodies — and all of them meat and drink to the eight-actor ensemble, directed by Belinda Cornish.
The live Teatro La Quindicina audience Friday night was at the Varscona for a first: to launch the company’s 39th season with a debut venture into producing theatre on film. And there was a bonus in the pre-screening chat with co-artistic directors Cornish and Andrew MacDonald-Smith, the rare sighting of playwright Stewart Lemoine onstage, in person. Speaking as we are of lost Lemoines, the last time that happened, according to my sources, was in a Lemoine adaptation of King Lear that happened before Teatro was born 39 seasons ago.
The wry playwright explained that the origins of Lost Lemoine Part 1 are to be found in his pandemic project, to digitize his archive of plays, 100 pieces or more strong, and many of them before the mid-90s written on typewriters. Some, evidently, have been updated; others are, hilariously, timeless. Erik Mortimer’s original music is hip to that; it’s a clever mixture of the “classical” and motifs that seem to capture a more screwball levity.
The sets are stylized in a theatrical way (designer: Chantel Fortin). And Cornish threads the locales together with sprightly set changes that are, amusingly, modern dance numbers of the ‘60s and ‘70s— you know, the artsy kind where the company appears in black leotards, exiting at speed towards unknown existential crises with outstretched arms.
Vague Harvest, a name that nails the drifting non-sequiturs of the New Wave avant-garde, is a hilarious repository of breathy pauses, moody gazes into the mid-distance, and solemn randomness passing itself off as deeply meaningful. “Have you seen the Steinway?” asks a soulful artist (Gianna Vacirca) in a beautiful floaty gown (costumes by Leona Brausen). “It was here this morning.”
The fun of the performances is its real raison d’être. I laughed out loud to see Vacirca, Andrea House, and Jesse Gervais as the love triangle of tortured characters, with their vague harvest of mittel-Euro accents. (House’s entrances and exits are worth the price of admission in themselves). Director Cornish and cinematographer Adam Kidd capture them in self-important soul-searching angles, close-ups, silhouettes.
With their exotic characters and witty way with words (that they actually speak to each other), Lemoine’s comedies have always been located at the opposite pole to prairie naturalism. In Fatalism in the New World, Meer and House are highly amusing as a couple of cracker stoics on a porch, preparing for the worst and following their own depressing logic to its reducto ad absurdum.
The Ugly Meadow is a bite-sized “memory play” of escalating convolutions, and extreme gravitas. “I have had a picnic here before.” Ludicrous Pie is more specific in its references. In this country it’s been up to Lemoine (The Vile Governess) to restore that Norwegian laff-meister Henrik Ibsen to his rightful place in the world of comedy. “At least you are not drowned,” says Mrs. Tubing, advising a young man (Oscar Derkx) to look on the bright side. He does. “Only death can save me,” he says.
Though fetchingly acted by Helen Belay and Josh Travnik, The Gauntlet, a blind date-gone-south playlet, isn’t quite up to those sublime reaches.
The whole thing is larky, a sort of theatrical hors d’oeuvre platter of absurdist flavours that reveals the depth of the Lemoine collection, and the comic dexterity of playwright, director, and actors. Warning: avoid if you have allergies to the nutty. You can have the fun of sampling at home online through Oct. 31 (streaming passes at teatroq.com).
Lost Lemoine: A Second Round of Seconds opens Sept. 3, with a live gala at the Varscona, then online, too.
Lost Lemoine Part 1
Theatre: Teatro La Quindicina
Written by: Stewart Lemoine
Directed by: Belinda Cornish:
Filmed by: Adam Kidd
Starring: Helen Belay, Mark Meer, Jocelyn Ahlf, Jesse Gervais, Oscar Derkx, Andrea House, Josh Travnik, Gianna Vacirca
Where: online, teatroq.com
Streaming: through Oct. 31