By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Comedy. That was the only stipulation when Teatro La Quindicina got a joint commission in 2003 from a short-lived comedy festival in Edmonton and the prestigious High Performance Rodeo in Calgary. That open-ended proposition was meat and drink for a theatre company that’s always been about that very subject, comedy in all its classic routes, madcap back roads, and quirky byways.
“It wasn’t a ton of money. So let’s just have an adventure!” That’s what Teatro resident playwright and muse Stewart Lemoine was thinking of a trio of the company’s younger actors, all in their early ’20’s, when he said to Josh Dean — one of them and a star improviser too — “let’s sit down and write a play and see what happens.”
The result was a comedy, sort of a screwball but sort of not, with a mysteriously oddball title: Caribbean Muskrat. As live theatre bounces back after a long and punishing pause, Teatro turns 40 by launching a four-production 2022 season with a revival of that very play, the kooky comedy Lemoine and Dean wrote together nearly 20 years ago. Caribbean Muskrat opens April 1 on the Varscona stage.
“Josh sat beside me, and I did the typing,” says Lemoine. And together, as he recalls, they operated on the strict, time-honoured improv imperative: “what are things that make us laugh?” So … occupation? Sleep therapist.
Yup, there is one in Caribbean Muskrat: Dr. Hadrien Burch, Kelowna’s third-most-eligible bachelor. “He’s dating a woman who’s a hostess at a high-end winery/bistro. And she’s won a Caribbean muskrat for sitting through a time-share demonstration in Bimini…. She didn’t like the prize she got, so she traded with the woman sitting behind her.”
The catch is that the rodent in question has to be sent separately, animal quarantine and all that, and go through Customs. Which is why Caribbean Muskrat has a customs agent character, Bess Wesley.
Location? No offence Okanagan Valley, but Caribbean Muskrat might be a very rare example of a Canadian comedy by a notable Canadian playwright to be set in Kelowna, a city not hitherto known for its hilarity.
And since Caribbean Muskrat premiered at the Rodeo in the Engineered Air Theatre, with its wide, shallow stage, a space that lends itself particularly to lectures, it seemed like a good idea to have one of those, for starters. Hadrien Burch does the honours with an informative lecture on sleep disorders.
You never know what might lodge itself in a playwright’s mind. The name of the play’s bistro hostess, Cynthia Lodgepole, was inspired, explains Lemoine, by a highway sign you see driving to Jasper, which indicates the distances to both Cynthia and Lodgepole. He remembered that sign when it came time to write a new and exotic comedy, For The Love of Cynthia, in honour of the grand opening of the renovated Varscona Theatre in 2016.
Caribbean Muskrat is pretty much category-resistant, says its co-author, whose archive includes every shade and colour of comedy from screwball and farce through “Ibsen-esque comedy.” This one is “more of an indie,” Lemoine laughs. “Quirky, light, an introductory taste of what’s to come in the season” — a season that includes the Hitchcockian “comic mystery” Evelyn Strange in May, the four-door three-actor farce A Grand Time In The Rapids in June (a play, by the way, with its own “etiquette expert”), and in August at the Fringe a moving exploration of artistic creation, The Margin of the Sky.
As for Caribbean Muskrat, “in 2003 when we wrote it, it was the post-Seinfeld era,” so … a contemporary, fairly breezy comedy about people who maybe misbehaved a little bit, were a bit self-absorbed in the modern world but see things in an interesting way. Not a high-style comedy.” Says Lemoine, “it was a little bit of its era.” But the 2022 revival lives now, without much adjustment, apart from the sleep clients handing over computer sticks instead of VHS tapes.
Lemoine’s cast of three includes Teatro fave Rachel Bowron and (in accord with continuing company practice practice) introduces a couple of newcomers. Rochelle Laplante, a bright presence recently in Bright Young Things’ Hiraeth and currently onstage in Peter Pan Goes Wrong at the Citadel, makes her Teatro debut as customs agent Bess Wesley. Recent U of A theatre grad Jackson Card is Dr. Burch the sleep clinician.
Bowron plays bistro hostess Cynthia Lodgepole, a character described by the co-playwright as “a hilarious bundle of contradictions, completely self-absorbed, runs on her own logic, but so charming.”
“It’s a great way to ease back into this,” as Lemoine says of Teatro’s much-delayed return to a live season. And who knows, maybe Teatro will get invited to tour Caribbean Muskrat to Kelowna. “It’s pretty positive,” says Lemoine. “The bus service is mentioned very favourably.”
Theatre: Teatro La Quindicina
Written by: Stewart Lemoine and Josh Dean
Starring: Rachel Bowron, Jackson Card, Rochelle Laplante
Where: Varscona Theatre, 10329 83 Ave.
Running: April 1 to 17
Tickets and season subscriptions: teatroq.com