by Lynn on July 23, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

At 4th Line Theatre, Millbrook, Ontario. Written by Shirley Barrie. Directed by Kim Blackwell. Designed by Julie Tribe. Composed and music conducted by Justin Hiscox. Choreographed by Monica Dottor. Starring: Mark Hiscox Alison J. Palmer, Jeff Schissler, Shelley Simester, Robert Winslow.

The wonderful 4th Line Theatre Company continues celebrating local stories with its latest play, Queen Marie by Shirley Barrie. But this one is a local story about a woman who went on to international fame—theatre and film star, Marie Dressler. She was born in Cobourg, a fact that is held dear by the town. But in the play Marie notes with a bit of sarcasm, that she in fact grew up in Lindsay, Ontario. The stuff you learn in the theatre.

Marie was a large woman but that wasn’t why she was noticed. She was noticed because she was funny. It was an interesting career. First small gigs in the theatre, which lead to Broadway and stardom. She then added Hollywood to her accomplishments. She starred in Greta Garbo’s first talking movie. As a change of pace it was a dramatic role for Dresser and she was terrified. But the result was a triumph.

It was a career of professional highs and lows, along with several personal disappointments. She had no luck with me—they liked taking her money while saying sweet things to her. Then she realized that she was more comfortable in women’s company. She was tenacious, inventive, smart in the ways of the theatre and drama, and creating. She worked with the greats and the best.

Shirley Barrie’s play covers it all. Barrie takes a conventional path in telling the story, although it’s not as pedestrian as “and then I did this and then I took that part.” While Barrie’s writing seems a bit clunky in parts, she has captured the life, times and personality of Marie Dressler. So much depends on luck and more often it depends on recognizing an opportunity. Dressler had luck in the people she met, helped who then hired her later on, but she was also a keen observer and knew an opportunity when it presented itself. And she worked hard at it too.

The production takes place in the magical setting of the Winslow Farm barn yard and the fields. It’s directed with style, energy and efficiency by Kim Blackwell. She uses the whole barn and attached buildings and the surrounding grounds. Characters rush, dance and scurry from scene to scene. You get a sense of a woman always on the move, and the people who came into and out of her life.

I get the sense with Queen Marie that it is perhaps more ambitious than other 4th Line Theatre shows—which is in no way a criticism of the other shows. It’s just that with Queen Marie we have the wonderful Monica Dottor doing choreography. The equally gifted designer Julie Tribe has created the set and the costumes for this show. Both ladies are celebrated artists in the Toronto theatre scene.

As Marie, Shelley Simester reveals a woman who knows she’s large and makes humour out of it. Simester illuminates Marie’s determination and desperation to make it in show business, and it’s no wonder she made it. But Simester also shows us a woman who had her share of disappointments and knew how to deal with them as well. It’s a performance full of humour, charm and strength. She knew how to end a relationship when it was doing her no good.

As many of the important men in Marie’s life—her bully father, her cowardly husband, Lionel Barrymore and Charlie Chaplin, Robert Winslow is varied, confident, and compelling.

The rest of the cast give performances that are full of conviction. As always Justin Hiscox has created just the right kind of music that illuminates a life and career as large as Marie Dressler.

Queen Marie plays at 4th Line Theatre, on the Winslow Farm until August 4.

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