By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
A newcomer — a properly composed English lady, in high heels and a frock — explains at the outset of A Grand Time in the Rapids that she’s crossed the Atlantic and come to Grand Rapids, Michigan “to make sense of my life.”
Uh-oh. The declaration in itself is a provocation to the farce gods, an international indicator that decorum is at risk and chaos is imminent. Not least because a helpful etiquette expert with a bow tie and an argyll vest (and a bicycle) has already arrived at the door … one of four waiting calmly, closed, ready for action onstage (design: Chantel Fortin).
Tea will be served, in china cups. And, as the riotous Teatro La Quindicina three-actor door-slammer now creating mayhem at the Varscona confirms, in hilarious fashion, what starts in tea ends in towels.
Men in bow ties — like fussbudget Ted Todd, etiquette columnist for the Grand Rapids Oracle (Farren Timoteo) — tend to become undone in farces. So do men in suits — like investment banker Boyd Mayhew (Andrew MacDonald-Smith). Ah, and natural repositories of good old British propriety— like the young widow Thalia Cumberland (Kristen Padayas) — are unintentional instigators with their concern for proper behaviour.
Really, what could go wrong?
The only farce in a canon of more than 75 comedies by resident playwright Stewart Lemoine, A Grand Time in the Rapids was last revived a decade ago to celebrate the company’s big three-oh. And, now, in Belinda Cornish’s terrifically funny production, it’s a summer frolic for Teatro’s 40th anniversary season.
You will laugh out loud, a lot (I did, and it felt good). For starters the people around me and I cracked up just hearing Ted Todd’s name, for reasons I can’t even begin to explain. And for all you connoisseurs of relevance out there, A Grand Time in the Rapids is a riotous capture for our sense that the world is spinning, farcically, nearly out of control. One little revelation, one thread pulled at the fabric of good order so to speak, and we could end up in someone else’s clothes. Or none at all.
But I digress.
In the Grand Rapids of 1950, Ted Todd, the alter-ego of newspaper advice guru Aunt Elva, has been enlisted by Thalia to finesse a rendezvous with her new suitor Boyd the banker. The need is occasioned by Thalia’s determination to shed light on a chapter in her past. Ted is a professional analyst of potential awkwardness; naturally, his own presence enhances the awkwardness quotient exponentially.
Timoteo and MacDonald-Smith, master farceurs both, verbally and physically, are a very funny pair onstage — even visually: At the risk of offending reviewer propriety, I will reveal that the one is compact and the other lanky, with voices to match.
In a performance of maximum comic agility from Timoteo, who is somehow able to propel himself horizontally across the stage, Ted reveals himself to be the possessor of “a flexible tenor voice.” Watching him do vocal warm-ups for his demonstration of selected excerpts from The Messiah, is a physical comedy gem in itself. As in its previous incarnations A Grand Time In The Rapids remains a rare, let’s be bold and say The Only, contributor of Handel jokes to the repertoire.
As a dry banker whose idea of a romantic date is to take Thalia to see the hydroelectric plant, Boyd finds himself reduced from an authoritative case of mild perplexity to something approaching total disintegration, literally and figuratively. MacDonald-Smith is expert at charting this course.
The English propensity to be conciliatory, to maintain the civilities in circumstances of mounting frenzy, is nicely captured in Padayas’s performance, though the accent and cadence do tend to wander a bit. Behaving with restraint, Thalia says modestly to a compliment from Ted, “is easy to do when you’re dumbfounded.”
Which brings us to the intricacy of Lemoine’s farce architecture: the difficulty of setting a farce in motion whirling through four doors is enhanced in inverse proportion to the size of the cast. Kudos to Rachel Bowron’s evocatively ‘50s costumes and their re-arrangement (and disappearance) in the course of events.
“It’s completely manageable,” as characters observe from time to time, with increasing desperation, through the evening. Under Cornish’s direction it is until it just about isn’t. What fun.
A Grand Time in the Rapids
Theatre: Teatro La Quindicina
Written by: Stewart Lemoine
Directed by: Belinda Cornish
Starring: Andrew MacDonald-Smith, Kristen Padayas, Farren Timoteo
Where: Varscona Theatre, 10329 83 Ave.
Running: through July 24