Review: A Belly Full

by Lynn on March 19, 2020

in The Passionate Playgoer

A Belly Full  closed early because of the COVID 19 Virus. I’m reviewing it anyway because it was charming. I hope it has another complete life.

Was at Theatre Aquarius, Hamilton, Ont.

Written by Mary Colin Chisholm and Marcia Kash

Directed by Marcia Kash

Choreography by Robin Calvert

Set and costumes by Debra Hanson

Composed and sound design by Creighton Doane

Lighting by Siobhán Sleath

Cast: Raymond Ablack

Valerie Boyle

Sierra Holder

Melanie Janzen

Sarah Mennell

Robin Schisler

Nora Sheehan

Sarah Lynn Strange

Blair Williams

A group of women decide to join a belly dancing class taught in a local church. Two women thought it was a Pilates class only to be told that the palates class was taught at another church. They were coerced into staying by the jolly wife of the minister. The teacher was the beguiling, exotically-named, Shalimar, played by the swivel-hipped, Melanie Janzen.

To be specific about who is who: Marnie (Sarah Mennell) is a super-baker and is trying to make a go of baking for a living. She is happiest when baking but is stressed because of the business and trying to find quality time with her partner, Ravi (Raymond Ablack), who is a bike-courier and their young child. Willow (Sarah Lynn Strange) is a hairdresser, cancer survivor and a three-times divorcee. She grabs at life and is an inspiration for the other women. Jane (Robin Schisler) is a patient, loving wife to Brian (Blair Williams) who seems obsessive-compulsive as well as agoraphobic. She is his ‘caretaker.’ Marnie and Jane are best friends. Rose (Valerie Boyle) is the person who has organized this class and is married to the often mentioned, but never seen minister, Nigel. Aleesha (Sierra Holder) is a young teen who seems to attract young men who treat her badly and she curries their favour and attention. She’s trying to work things out. She’s been made to take the class but comes to like it and the women in the class. Tess (Nora Sheehan) is an ER nurse in the class and is the mother of four boys.

The acting on the whole is just dandy. As Marnie, Sarah Mennell tries to keep a smile and a handle on her frazzled nerves. She relies heavily on Ravi, played with sweetness and patience by Raymond Ablack. Sierra Holder plays Aleesha like a moody teen with attitude problems that slowly dissolve as she gets more confident in the class. And when she dances we see that is no unsure teenager–that is a woman with power. As Brian, Blair Williams gives a performance unlike most of the ones he plays (he usually plays suave, assured characters.) Brian is hunched, scared of anything unexpected and timid. A lovely performance. As I said, all the actors give dandy performances.

Mary Colin Chisholm and Marcia Kash explore many and various human situations in this sweet, funny play: rocky relationships, the drive for success at the expense of a relationship (hence the ‘rocky’ adjective), compassion; obsessive-compulsive behaviour, body image, romance, sensuality, confidence and love. Each woman has her issues with her body, or confidence or shyness, or her partner. They all bond and then plan a fund-raiser for the church by doing a show in which they all belly dance.

I thought it was pretty obvious this was really The Full Monty for women. (In The Full Monty, a group of unemployed men plan on putting on a show for money in which they do a strip. Those guys had all sorts of issues) A Belly Full follows the same story structure. There is a sense of despair in many of these women’s lives. One partner works flat out trying to get her pie business off the ground while her partner feels left out and weakens and momentarily strays. Another woman deals with her husband who is a shut-in and obsessive-compulsive. Another seems dependent on men for her validation. Another is recovering from cancer and her confidence is not what it should be. They all find solace in the camaraderie of the belly dancing group and how it makes them feel.

 Marcia Kash directs the play with flair. The humour arises naturally from the various situations and the dialogue. There is a wonderful sensual dance (kudos to choreographer, Robin Calvert) when a repentant husband tries to win back his wife. And Calvert’s choreography for the group of women takes this disparate group and moulds them into a joyous line of belly dancers. Sweet.  

Produced by Theatre Aquarius.

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