by Lynn on November 24, 2011

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Mady Centre for the Performing Arts, Barrie, Ontario. Written by Alexsei Arbuzov. Translated by Ariadne Nicolaeff. Directed by Marti Maraden. Designed by Joanna Yu. Lighting by Gareth Crew. Choreography by Linda Garneau. Composed by Marc Desormeaux. Starring: Geordie Johnson and Lucy Peacock.

Produced by Talk is Free Theatre.

DO YOU TURN SUMMERSAULTS? is a sweet, gentle play of friendship turned to love. Lydia is a feisty, irascible charmer, of a certain age, who is in a sanatorium for treatment a physical ailment. Rodion is the administrator of the sanatorium. When Rodion first meets Lydia, he is sitting outside, enjoying the fresh air. He is charmed by this forthright, curious woman who approaches him as he sits.

He’s charmed until he realizes who she is. She is a trouble-maker. She was supposed to come to his office that morning to discuss some complaints but she didn’t show up. The early hour didn’t suit her for an appointment. The complaints? She sang out loud to herself and the other patients in her ward didn’t like it. She would wander off in the middle of the night to enjoy the moon and would take the easiest exit, the window, because the doors were locked at night.

Rodion is as uptight and buttoned up as Lydia is as free and vibrant. She exasperates him. She won’t tell him her age. She won’t tell him if she’s married or not. She says she was in the circus but won’t tell him what she did. He needs all this for the file.

Over time a grudging respect and then a warm friendship results. She opens up to him, telling him some of the information he wants to know and he confides in her. At the end of Act I I figured the play could end nicely there, but Alexsei Arbuzov, the playwright, has other plans.

In Act II Rodion and Lydia reveal hurts and scars. Lives not lived so smoothly. The ending looks like it will go one way and then Arbuzov does a quick change with startling results. This is hardly a saccharin story.

And for all the temptation, I am grateful that director Marti Maraden hasn’t made it a saccharin, sentimental production. Relationships are revealed slowly. The pacing of the exasperation on both sides, slowly, believably gives way to tender friendship.

This is one of those productions in which the budget obviously was a pittance and everyone did the best they could and pulled off a classy show. Props are few but effective—a table and chairs, a set of stairs.

And of course the cast of Geordie Johnson as Rodion and Lucy Peacock as Lydia only adds to the classiness of the enterprise. Johnson can look both boyish and uptight in the blink of an eye. Rodion is such a tightly wound character with little opportunity to veer from the norm, that he seems stodgy. Lydia gives him the opportunity to loosen his tie and unbutton at least the top button.

As Lydia, Lucy Peacock is at first an almost frumpy, irritated and irritating woman. She’s in a sanatorium, where she doesn’t want to be, dealing with rigid Rodion who does not share her sense of whimsy. But by the end of the play both have made concessions to the other. He is charmed and disarmed by her. She is fairly twinkly and graceful because of him. Both give performances that are full of heart, detail, thought and tenderness.

Maraden even uses the two young stage hands to great effect. They not only bring props on and off, but these two people are also given a life of their own in the context of the play, that adds to the production. For example when one of the staqe hands looks at a bouquet of flowers, he inbues the flowers with a certain poignancy.

A few words must be said about Arkady Spivak, the Artistic Producer of Talk is Free Theatre. This is the 10th season for this theatre company; a huge accomplishment for any theatre. He has produced plays in Barrie that are esoteric, intriguing, and often reveals treasures, such as this sweet play, or many of the musicals that he produces. I have seen his shows presented in rough theatres, even one last year in the lobby of a health facility. Now in his 10th season his company will be resident in a brand new theatre. His tenacity, good nature and resolve to do theatre are impressive. I look forward to seeing what else he has in store for us.

DO YOU TURN SUMMERSAULTS? plays at the Mady Centre for the Performing Arts, 1 Dunlop Street West, Barrie, Ontario until November 26.

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