by Lynn on March 25, 2011

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Tarragon Theatre, Mainspace. Written by Jennifer Brewin, Leah Cherniak, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Alisa Palmer and Martha Ross. Directed by Alisa Palmer. Designed by Judith Bowden. Lighting by Andrea Lundy. Music and sound by John Gzowski. Starring: Ann-Marie MacDonald, Martha Ross, Severn Thompson.
Produced by Theatre Columbus and Tarragon Theatre.

Three sisters—Jelly Fine, Jayne Fine and Jojo Fine—plan to meet for lunch. It’s a pretty innocuous event, except that the two older sisters, Jayne and Jojo fret about what their younger sister, Jelly, wants. There is a hint that there has been some trouble between them. Many cell phone calls later the sisters meet to talk and lunch.

Jelly is an artist and is planning an instillation in which she will reconfigure her house and make it fly. It makes sense to her; we just go along with it. Jelly is also planning a birthday party for her 13 year old daughter Jessie, which seems to take on the same complications as the instillation.

Jojo, the oldest sister, is a professor of Brecht and has lost her love of the subject. She is in a relationship with a man that she is secretive about. She is also in constant state of high anxiety about everything.

Jayne used to be a Bay Street executive but has since come out as a lesbian, left the corporate world to become a farmer and is having trouble with her lover Carolyn. Apparently Carolyn is leaving Jayne and Jayne can’t talk about it to her sisters.

In fact the sisters have a lot of trouble talking to each other about anything, and certainly about what is happening in their lives and how they are having a hard time coping.

I have tremendous respect and admiration for many of the creative people involved with More Fine Girls. And so it’s with terrible sadness I have to ask: What happened? How can this show be so disappointing, what with the people involved in it?

The same ladies got together years ago and created The Attic, the Pearls and Three Fine Girls in 1995. I saw it and it’s hazy in my memory. In that one the three sisters gathered for their father’s funeral and spent time in the attic going through stuff, reminiscing. I believe they had an argument that left them not speaking to each other.

If there is any reference to that previous play in More Fine Girls then I missed it. And surely there should be. Director, Alisa Palmer’s wonderful, articulate program note details what their intensions were in doing More Fine Girls; how they wanted to address getting older, the fears, baggage, trials and tribulations of it. The problem is that the play is bogged down in so much broad business and bits that the result is generally flat, unfunny and not poignant. The issues, if they are addressed at all, become irrelevant under all that broadness.

With More Fine Girls at least, playwriting by committee doesn’t work. There are bits here and there that are funny because we have all been there—Jayne calls up information for the phone number of Ikea and it’s obvious the directory assistant is not in Canada. As Jayne, Ann-Marie MacDonald plays it very seriously, very matter of factly, and that makes it all the funnier. But too often I got the feeling that this group of friends got together with each offering something like a party piece that they might have found funny. I just wish they had thought of the audience more regarding whether the humour worked or not. Or whether these bits created a play of substance.

But more often than not it’s the physical business that overpowers and suffocates any humour that’s there. Jojo’s cell phone goes off in her big carryall. Jojo is played by Martha Ross. I must confess I am not a fan of her brand of humour. I can’t call it clown work—to me it’s just overplayed mugging. So when the cell phone goes off in that large carryall, my heart sinks because I know what is coming. Ross opens and flipps out the sides of the carryall. She digs deep into the purse and flaps at the sides some more. She rummages around looking for the phone. She takes lots of things out of the purse, placing them on a table; more flapping; more business; until she finds the phone. The feeling seems to be that if something is unfunny after three seconds then prolong it for 33 seconds for good measure. Deadly. It’s a kind of ‘funny business’ that has long past it’s ‘best by’ date.

Leah Cherniak was supposed to take the roll of Jelly but withdrew during rehearsals for personal reasons. Severn Thompson has taken over the roll of Jelly and brings to it a sense of Jelly’s quirky humour that is refreshing and poignant.

Director Alisa Palmer has an inventive eye and some of her images are fine. I just wish she had reigned in the overplaying.

In the last ten minutes of More Fine Girls Jelly drops a bombshell of a revelation. I don’t think it’s a cheat. I do think it introduces a fascinating bit of business that should have been explored earlier. That way at least we would have had good reason to be in the room with these Fine girls. As it is, this thin play has given us precious little reason for wanting to know more about these Fine girls. No more, please.

More Fine Girls plays at the Tarragon Theatre, Mainspace until April 3, 2011

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.