Getting the jump on time: Love Is For Poor People and The Exquisite Hour, a Lemoine double-bill at Teatro Live!

Rachel Bowron in Love Is For Poor People, Teatro Live!. Photo by Ian Jackson, Epic Photography.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

“So, tonight we’re going to be remembering my glorious future….” declares the glamorous and worldly star ‘Her’ we meet in Love Is For Poor People.

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In the new Stewart Lemoine that premieres Friday as half of Teatro Live’s winter double-bill, the brain-teasing proposition at play, as Rachel Bowron explains, is a stage memoir of a long, lavishly rewarded, event-filled life, romantic history, and career — before most of it has happened. “A toast to all that will soon be what once was.” 

“Very Lemoinian, I think,” laughs Teatro leading lady Bowron of this knotty little time puzzle. She thinks of the piece as “a nod to the styles of Elaine Stritch’s At Liberty and Bea Arthur’s Just Between Friends, with their fascinating up-front collages of reminiscence and confession. And this one has the Lemoinian twist that, as ’Her’ explains at the outset, there are considerable advantages to getting the jump on time, and doing pre-emptively autobiographical memoirs of long full lives richly lived. Before they’ve actually happened and the star is old. “This is a fun show,” says Her. “But I don’t seriously think you’d want to see me doing it at an advanced age.” 

Rachel Bowron is 'Her' in Love Is For Poor People, Teatro Live!. Photo by Ryan Parker.In a career full of juicy roles in Teatro comedies — most recently the formidably charming winery bistro hostess in last season’s Caribbean MuskratLove Is For Poor People is Bowron’s first-ever solo play. That it happens to be the “first ever single-character show” in Lemoine’s long canon of comedies feels like a special occasion, too. “Freeing, and also terrifying,” says Bowron of having the stage to herself. “There’s something very fun about getting to play with the show on my own! A great exercise for my brain….”

And not only that, Bowron, as the costume designer for the double-bill, got to try on her own old-school Hollywood glam shoes. “They’re pretty uncomfortable,” she says cheerfully, which is a kind of certificate of merit for showbiz footwear.

It’s an assignment in high contrast to the costuming requirements of the other half of the Lemoine double-bill. For Teatro’s first foray into the winter season in a decade and a half, Love Is For Poor People is paired with the moving and insightful The Exquisite Hour, one of Lemoine’s most beloved and oft-produced comedies. His only two-hander, which premiered in 2002, has an intriguing proposition about time, too. 

Mat Busby and Jenny McKillop in The Exquisite Hour, Teatro Live!. P{hoto by Ian Jackson, Epic Photography.

It happens in the real time of the title, when a mystery woman arrives in the backyard of an unassuming “supervisor of merchandise receiving” one summer evening and asks him politely for an hour. “Are you satisfied with what you know?” And the unexceptional life of Mr. Zachary Teal, unspooling regularly day to day, will never be the same, its horizons exploded by a sense of possibility. Teatro faves Mat Busby and Jenny McKillop star in the revival directed, like its companion piece, by the playwright. So… Bowron’s challenge has been costumes that are”well put-together but unexceptional. Plain without being drab.” Mr. Zachary Teal would never stand out in a crowd. 

Should the exuberant Bowron ever decide to do her own personal stage memoir, à la Stritch, it might start with her declaration that “I was such a shy kid. And as soon as I went into theatre that melted away.” She was such an ardent convert that post-Vic (Edmonton’s arts high school), and a Grade 9 debut as the Winkie general in Wizard of Oz (“I got to wear a red trench coat!”), she immediately repaired to Grant MacEwan’s musical theatre program and “had a lot of fun.” From musicals like On The Town and Nine, she’s carried around the wisdom of director Tim Ryan ever since: “make it work, figure it out.” 

Bowron got her first Teatro gig as “back-up to the Jellicles” in a fund-raiser. “Yup, that checks out, slinging licorice (at the concession) and Cats,” she laughs.  And in 2010, her official Teatro debut was a declaration, par excellence, of non-shyness. In The Hoof and Mouth Advantage (by Lemoine and Jocelyn Ahlf), the premise of a couple of  down-at-heels Depression Era vaudevillians opening a theatre school in the middle of the prairie hinterland, produced a show-stopper: the performance by Bowron. The “a monster child with a bow in her hair,” as she puts it, was Oiseau, a song-and-dance exhibitionist in a party dress. The capper? By the end, Oiseau’s revelation was that she wasn’t actually a little girl; “she’s a lot older than she thinks she is … like 30.” Bowron is amused by the memory.

“I met Leona Brausen and Cathy Derkach, comedy forces,” says Bowron of this turning-point production. “And I thought ‘OK I want to stay here’.” And she saw “some heavy-hitters, in performances and shows,” like Happy Toes and Evelyn Strange. “So exciting, so smart, the Lemoine one-two punch of being hilarious and poignant. His sneak attack in beautiful smart shows: I wanted to be around that,” she says of the company.

And so she has. Music has often been part of Bowron’s Teatro appearances. In Angels on Horseback, a kind of real-time party, she and Ryan Parker played a very funny self-regarding cover band called Medley. In Eros and the Itchy Ant, she was a piano teacher rattled by questions of artistic interpretation from a baker (Parker), curious about a Grade 1 piano piece. In a laugh out loud scene in A Lesson in Brio, Bowron was a singer-songwriter at an open-mic night in Lloydminster. 

Lately Bowron has been expanding her theatrical repertoire with costume design, mentored by Teatro’s brilliant resident costumer Leona Brausen. She was Brausen’s assistant, “fulfilling her design,” with Teatro’s venture into digital streaming. And then assumed the full design assignment with a hilariously rapid-fire succession of costumes and wigs in A Fit, Happy Life in 2021, in which Kristen Padayas played high-maintenance customers, one after the other, of a department store bed salesman.

In last summer’s revival of Lemoine’s only farce A Grand Time In The Rapids, Bowron’s vivid ‘50s-style costumes, got rearranged (and sometimes disappeared) in the course of impending chaos: a true test of designer skill. 

“It was learning by osmosis, always asking Leona questions, and watching how her brain works,” says Bowron of this new venture of her theatre career. ” And it’s a testament to how invested (the ensemble) is in making a safe place to start giving it a whirl, helping us grow in myriad ways.”    

That’s the thing about the like-minded members of Teatro ensemble, says Bowron happily. Check: sense of humour, aesthetic, response to comedy. “We make each other laugh. The weirdest, smallest thing someone says, or a poem we somehow all know, launches us into some obscure musical theatre song. A melding of theatre nerd minds!” 

And there’s this: tucked into Chantel Fortin’s set for Love Is For Poor People are bottles here and there. Her is very fond of champagne; it punctuates her reminiscences at crucial moments. All the bottles are Veuve Cliquot, “and they’re all from the office.” 

PREVIEW

Love Is For Poor People/ The Exquisite Hour

Theatre: Teatro Live

Written and directed by: Stewart Lemoine

Starring: Rachel Bowron, Mat Busby, Jenny McKillop

Where: Varscona Theatre, 10329 83 Ave.

Running: Friday through March 5

Tickets: teatroq.com

  

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