Review: CHASE THE ACE, at the Blyth Festival, Blyth, Ont.

by Lynn on September 13, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Harvest Stage, Blyth Festival until Sept. 19, 2021.

Mark Crawford, Photo: Ann Baggeley

Written and performed by Mark Crawford.

Directed by Miles Potter

Mark Crawford is one of our best playwrights. His plays are full of fully drawn characters with real concerns in real situations. And they are bend over funny. Chase the Ace is his latest (at the Blyth Festival), and it may be his best so far.

The Story. Charlie King has not been having a good time of late. He was a successful morning radio host until he lost his cool on air and railed at his co-host because he was having an affair with his (Charlie’s wife). To make matters worse, Charlie had been to the dentist and his mouth was frozen so in the diatribe it sounded as if he was drunk. Someone recorded said diatribe and it went viral. Charlie lost his job, his wife and his house after that.

Then he got a tip that there was a small radio station in a small town called Port Belette that needed a station manager. He enquired and got the job in a phone interview with the station owner. His job was to boost listenership and interest and keep out of the way of the station owner. Not only did he have to manage the station but he also had to be on air as well. The only other employee of the station was Denise, a no-nonsense-nasally-voiced-woman-who also lent her dulcet tones to radio.

Charlie wanted to make a difference. He wanted to report the truth to the folks. He got his chance with COVID. It struck just as he got his job. He reported numbers of cases. He reported that there were deaths from the virus at the local Seniors Home. The station owner told Charlie not to report that negative news because it would have a bad effect on tourism.

With that comment I heard echoes of Ibsen’s wonderful play An Enemy of the People when a responsible doctor wanted to shut down the spas in his tourist town because the water was contaminated and his brother, the mayor, wanted to ignore that suggestion because it would harm tourism. This is playwright Mark Crawford making a subtle but important point in his smart, funny play, Chase the Ace.

Charlie hears rumors of shady doings in the town but he’s more interested in keeping his job so he lets the rumors slide. He comes up with the idea of a game for which people can buy tickets that not only involves a 50/50 draw but also involves finding the Ace of Spades in a deck of cards to win even more money—hence the name “Chase the Ace.” The ticket proceeds will help the Seniors Home with much needed cash.

But then Charlie and Denise do realize that something is not right. Is the game rigged? Is there graft in the town council? Charlie goes looking for the truth.

The Production. Chase the Ace is a play with many characters, all played by playwright Mark Crawford. He effortlessly goes from the gangly, hapless Charlie to the nasally-voiced Denise, to the smooth and slimy Mayor, to all manner of characters, each with a distinctive voice and body language. When you think Crawford’s acting expertise has reached its peak, he goes further. He single-handedly presents a zoom call with multiple participants, each with their own issues: the microphone is not on. The camera of another is not on, Someone is frozen. Another doesn’t know how to join the meeting. Each time Crawford shifts from character to character with quickness and efficiency. You quickly get winded and exhausted from laughing.

Crawford is beautifully aided by director Miles Potter who has Crawford flitting around the space as many and various characters; rushing from one location in the story to another, getting trapped in a car because the character was still confined by a seat belt. The detail, the nuance and the brains in creating the minutiae of every single situation, both emotional and physical, fills this production to the brim with invention and creativity.

Comment.  It’s a given that Mark Crawford has a gift for writing funny plays. But they are also filled with substance, truths, situations that are meaningful and say something important about our lives. In Stag and Doe Crawford wrote about the trials of planning a wedding and questioned why get married at all. In Bed and Breakfast, two gay men plan to open a bed and breakfast place in a small, conservative town and how everybody copes with it. Boys, Girls and other Mythological Creatures is a lively, unsettling production of Mark Crawford’s lively unsettling play about a boy who just wanted to be himself but was afraid because of the constraints of his family and by what people might think.  The Birds and the Bees is about the fraught world of relationships.  I saw The Gig on line in a staged reading and is about a group of drag queens who get a needed gig only to find out it’s for a political fund-raiser for a group that is NOT supportive of gays, drag queens, or any body at all ‘different’.  In every single play, Mark Crawford writes with comedic flair as well a heart. He writes about and illuminates the truth in his characters’ lives and we all can relate. I will add that this is especially true of Chase the Ace. Chase down tickets at your earliest convenience.  

Blyth Festival presents:

Plays until: Sept. 19, 2021.

Running Time: 73 miniutes.

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.