by Lynn on January 23, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Streetcar Crowsnest, 345 Carlaw at Dundas St. E, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Kristen Thomson
Directed by Chris Abraham
Set by Julie Fox
Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne
Lighting by Kimberly Purtell
Video designed by Zack Russell
Costumes by Ming Wong
Cast: Jason Cadieux
Virgilia Griffith
Trish Lindström
Moya O’Connell
Tom Rooney
Kristen Thompson

NOTE: The Wedding Party by Kristen Thomson is a fitting way to open the Streetcar Crowsnest, Crow’s Theatre’s new permanent performance space at 345 Carlaw at Dundas St. E. The building is bright, airy and full of light. The side of the building facing Carlaw is all glass so daylight will pour in. And yes, of course, I checked out the women’s washroom. Lots of stalls, gleaming chrome for the stall doors, lots of sinks and faucets and very bright light to see clearly.

The theatre is a black box affair in which the seats are on risers and can be easily reconfigured according to the production. A bit of a concern on opening night was that there were no railings to hold on to should one need to hold on as one walked up the risers. Artistic Director Chris Abraham said that they do have the railings but they were the wrong size and were being corrected. When properly fitted they will provide solid support.

The seats are very comfortable and sturdy. It’s important the seats be sturdy with The Wedding Party because the occupants of the seats will be shifting and perhaps bouncing, what with all the laughing they will be doing.

The Story. The Wedding Party is about a wedding from hell. Kristen Thomson has focused her keen, observant eye on every cliché about weddings that go wrong and turns them on its ear. We’ve all been to weddings like this. Besides the humour there is a current of tension running through it.

Jack, the snobbish father of the groom (Jack Jr.) looks down on Maddy, the hard-drinking mother of the bride (Sherry). Margaret is Jack’s second wife, a fragile soul who wants everything to work out. Jack is a twin who is estranged from his brother Tony, who is invited to the wedding. As Jack roars into full father-of-the-groom mode we see why Tony would be estranged from his brother. Edna, the grandmother of the bride seems to define the word ‘inappropriate.’ Every guest seems to be a problem. And the bride and groom are nowhere to be seen. Are you getting all this down—there will be a test.

The Production. The audience faces a square space with a gleaming parquet floor. An elegant sign announces that this is the venue for the wedding of Sherry and Jack. Julie Fox’s design is simple and spare. As characters stream in, either as waiters, members of the wedding party, uninvited guests etc. I note that Ming Wong’s costumes are witty, funky, stylish and so appropriate for the quirky characters.

It is directed with style, detail and a keen sense of humour by Chris Abraham, Crow’s Theatre’s Artistic Director and as the production goes on the humour is ramped up. In a sense Abraham is ‘controlling’ organized chaos that just gets more and more frenzied.

The cast of six play multiple parts often switching gender, this includes Thomson who plays Maddy, the troubled, insecure mother of the bride, and Pilot the beloved, frisky dog of the parents of the groom. Pilot is a dog that never met a command he wanted to obey. I won’t spoil one particular moment when Pilot is given a repeated command and repeatedly ignores it. The scene is hilarious.

As an actor exits as one character, he/she returns seconds later dressed as another character. For instance Thomson leaves as Pilot (dressed in a black tux for dogs, black plush nose and black hat) and then returns moments later as a silent, flirty waitress in black pants and white shirt, hair pulled to the side, with a sly smile and a side-ways dip as she serves drinks.

Thomson deals with these many and various situations in her writing with razor sharp humour and perception that is at once loopy, smart, and sophisticated. And when you least expect it she inserts moments of breathtaking emotion.

For example, Jack and Margaret are going through a rough patch in their marriage. Jack is wonderfully played by the confident, slick, Tom Rooney, Margaret is played by the equally accomplished Moya O’Connell. Margaret knows that Jack’s eye is wandering. Jack tries to placate Margaret and puts his hand on hers for effect. Moya O’Connell looks away with such a look of hurt on her face it hits you like a brick. She takes her hand away abruptly and you get the depth of the feelings by the way it’s acted by these two actors, and by the way Chris Abraham has directed it.

Tom Rooney also plays Jack’s twin brother Tony. Tony has always been second best to the more brash and confident Jack. Particular kudos to Tom Rooney who is so subtle in his body language as to clearly differentiate both brothers. Jack swaggers with confidence and Tony is more retiring and accepting of a lesser place to a certain extent. And yes, there are scenes in which it does seem as if both brothers are on stage at the same time. These scenes almost seem like slight of hand, but with the gifted Tom Rooney and the equally gifted Chris Abraham directing, this impossible feat is pulled off with aplomb.

And just to play on this impossibility of having twins on stage acted by the same actor, Kristen Thomson adds a bit of impishness to her writing. Jack ‘comes on’ to Alice, the ‘best man’ in the wedding party—a good friend of Jack Jr. with her own secret—again played with smiling skittishness by Moya O’Connell. Alice is worried that Jack’s brother Tony will interrupt them. Jack says he doubts that—and it sinks in to the audience that that is true, because Tom Rooney plays both Jack and Tony. Rooney also plays Janice, Maddy’s sullen, unhappy willowy daughter—Rooney plays Alice in a slim red, almost strapless gown. The rest of the cast is dandy.

Jason Cadieux plays: Murray, the loud, boisterous brother of Maddy, Frank, the sleazy henchman for Jack, and Edna, Maddy’s aged, irreverent mother with wandering hands if she is introduced to a handsome man.

Trish Lindström plays Tiger, an awkward young man with sagging pants, a stiff walk and sweet sadness. Lindström also plays Jack and Tony’s father, who uses a ‘scooter’ to navigate around the set. He’s so soft-spoken you almost miss his sharp barbs. He’s the proverbial dirty old man on wheels.

Virgilia Griffith plays Trina the harried wedding planner who is put upon by both sides of the wedding party. She also plays Pippa the precocious, squeaky-voiced child of Jack and Margaret. And she plays the flamboyant Spanish lover of Janice, Maddy’s unhappy daughter and sister of the bride. (complicated, eh?)

Kristen Thomson uses a reference to the circus at the beginning and end of the production. A young boy and a girl are selected to participate in a magic trick organized by a flashy magician. The girl is asked if she would like to join the circus. She says she would. The trick is performed and the kids are thanked and leave the stage. Then the wedding party begins. At the end of the wedding section the production returns to that circus scene. The point of these two book-ended scenes seems elusive. If this is meant to connect to Maddy who had been involved in the circus, I think the point could have been made more strongly. If that’s not the point then I’m at a loss.

Comment. We have all been at these weddings from hell, with these recognizable characters, and some not so much. Kristen Thomson holds up the mirror to reflect the loopiness of life and its heartache all during this one supposedly happy event of the wedding party. It is a tremendous opening to a new building and bodes well for things to come.

Crow’s Theatre and Talk is Free Theatre present:

Opened: Jan. 19, 2017.
Closes: Feb. 11, 2017.
Cast: 6; 2 men, 4 women.
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes approx.

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