Review: BEAVER

by Lynn on November 16, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Storefront Theatre, 955 Bloor St. W., Toronto, Ont.

Written by Claudia Dey
Directed by Brendan McMurtry-Howlett
Costumes by Claudia Dey
Lighting by Kaileigh Krysztofiak
Sound by Lyon Smith
Cast: Toni Ellwand
Molly Flood
Waawaate Fobister
Carmen Grant
Chala Hunter
P.J. Prudat
Jimi Shlag
Katie Swift

A ninety-minute, one act play bloated to three interminable hours and two acts.

The Story. The dysfunctional Jersey family has gathered for a funeral. Rose Jersey has died. Rose’s 12 year-old-daughter Beatrice is there, as are Rose’s wise-cracking mother Edna and Rose’s sisters, Sima (a hooker) and Nora (up-tight and religiously righteous). Recriminations fly and old wounds are dredged up. Nora begins the paperwork for adopting Beatrice without consulting any one. She barely knows the girl but she is taking on the duty of adopting her. Beatrice seeks solace from her alcoholic father, Silo. She begins sleeping with men when she is barely 13. When she looses her virginity she changes her name to “Beaver.” I don’t think this is the Canadian version of “pussy” but ya never know. This animosity for each other continues for the whole interminable play.

The Production. The audience sits in two rows of chairs on either side of the room-length playing area. Because the back rows of chairs on either side are not raised those sitting there are guaranteed to miss a lot of the production. Why director Brendan McMurtry-Howlett decided to configure the space this way is a mystery. For much of the play the cast rushes through a door frame at one end of the space to the other to play scenes or establish where the scenes are taking place. Depending on where you sit (I was right in the middle of the back (second) row) t is like watching a tennis game with the players on one end of the space playing someone on the other and because the space is so long, one is constantly turning one’s head from side to side. Peripheral vision doesn’t work here. Cue the chiropractor.

McMurtry-Howlett directs Beaver with broad strokes—big movements, declarative performances with little variation, as if each character is a ‘type’—making the whole endeavour seem like a cartoon. Some stage business is just weird. A character flicks a real lighter, producing a light, twice, to light an imaginary cigarette. Now what’s that all about? In a production of a play with so little going for it, one can do without an eye-brow-knitting scene like that to add to the disappointment. And can we please put a moratorium on rumbling sound effects to underscore moments of serous drama? Please? Surely the words should do that, and if they don’t then all the sound effects in the world won’t help.

The cast are accomplished actors in their own right and they do herculean work trying to lift this slight but over-written play. For example, Toni Elwand as Edna Jersey spouts sharp barbs with a perfect dead-pan. Once she lobs the first barb with aplomb and then the second we expect that that’s what she does for the show. Writer Claudia Dey tries to be clever with the barbs but does not give any other information about Edna as to where such cleverness comes from other than Dey has written her as a smarty pants. Carmen Grant, as Nora is dressed in black, buttoned up to her neck. Her jaw is tight; her voice harsh as she vents about her sad, disappointed life—loneliness, unrequited love, resentment, trying to live purely, but having to live in Timmins. That small-town mentality is supposed to get a laugh. Not funny.

Comment. There are hints that Beaver could be an effective dark comedy if only it wasn’t for Dey’s laboured efforts to be quirky-funny. The effort is so obvious that the result is a leaden, over-long, over-wrought harangue.

Storefront Arts Initiative and We Will Meet Productions Presents:

Opened: Nov 11, 2016.
Closes: Nov. 27, 2016.
Cast: 8; 2 men, 6 women.
Running Time: 2 hours + approx.

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1 Lyon November 17, 2016 at 12:24 pm

I played a rumbling sound effect while reading this review.