Review: PAT & SKEE

by Lynn on March 5, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at Theatre Aquarius in the Studio Theatre until March 12, 2022.

Written, directed, by Sky Gilbert

Studio design by Denise Lisson

Costume design by Sonia Lewis

Cast: Suzanne Bennett

Sky Gilbert

Ralph Small

Musicians: David Lee (Bass)

Chris Palmer (Guitar)

Sky Gilbert is a playwright, director, poet, drag-queen, theatre professor, novelist, memoirist and theatre provocateur. In 1979 Sky Gilbert and two friends formed Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto to have a place to produce his plays and also provide safe haven for theatre dealing with queer issues.

Gilbert has always been a confident mover and a shaker in the theatre but before all that he was a quiet, thoughtful fifteen-year-old coming to grips with having to tell his parents that he was gay and dealing with their divorce. Why they divorced always troubled Sky Gilbert and his play Pat & Skee is his effort to revisit that troubling time and try and make sense of it.

Sky Gilbert has always experimented with form in both his playwrighting and direction. Sometimes the experiment is at the expense of clarity but that’s the adventure—trying to figure out the intention etc.

The Studio Theatre at Theatre Aquarius has not been used for about 10 years, and Mary Francis Moore, the Artistic Director of Theatre Aquarius thought that this experimental play seems right at home here. The room is arranged with round tables and chairs and some overstuffed chairs close to the playing area and at the back of the studio.

As for Denise Lisson’s design for the space: there is a raised section with a round table stage left that will be a bar area and there is another raised area, stage right, that is the home of Pat and her husband Skee. There is a chair centre and behind that is space for the two musicians to play quiet jazz before the show as the audience is getting seated, and then during the show as part of the production.

A man and a woman enter the space from a door upstage right. The woman carries bottles of wine to the table stage left. Her hair/wig (?) is blond, a bit unkempt. She wears low heels and a sleek skirt and top. She is drunk. She tells us she drinks a lot. We surmise with that much drinking she is an alcoholic.

The man is casually dressed. He mainly occupies the raised area stage right that has his desk and a chair. Another man also enters and sits in a comfortable chair on the edge of the audience and watches what goes on, on stage. He is bald, wears a shirt and pants and perhaps an apron of some sort.

The woman and first man first talk to us about themselves without actually telling us who they are. They eventually reference each other. She is Pat (Suzanne Bennett). He is Skee (Ralph Small). They married and never seemed to have anything in common, or any joy in the marriage. They talk of their son Sky (Sky Gilbert) and how he was close to his mother but not his father. Skee was an awkward father who thought that at least his son should be able to throw a ball. Sky was not good at that. Eventually in this long extended first scene, Pat and Skee do address each other.

She wants a divorce. He’s boring, not exciting. (Later she refers to him and his dullness as “a preponderance of dearth.” Brilliant.)  He wants a good reason, if he talks to her at all. He generally ignores her. Pat is adamant. Skee says this will hurt his business as an insurance salesman.

At a certain point in the play Pat goes to the table stage left. Sky joins her there for their scenes together. (He does not have any scenes with his father). The program says the play covers two time periods: 1965 when Pat and Skee are bickering over the divorce and 1975 when Sky and Pat are talking about the divorce and why she wanted one. At this point Pat is 45 and Sky is 25. He wears a black curly wig. At various times in the scene Sky will give a subtle hand motion to the musician/duo and they will either start to play soft jazz or stop playing until he subtly directs them to begin again.

As Pat, Suzanne Bennett is sultry in a slightly messy way—well she does play a woman who is drunk most of the time and she’s very effective. As Skee, Ralph Small is stodgy, content with his life and not at all really interested in his wife’s concerns until she wants a divorce. Ralph Small nicely establishes Skee’s pre-occupation in his own world. When Sky and Pat banter, he wants to know what went on with his mother but she is evasive. At one point in their history we are told, but don’t see, that Sky told his mother that they can’t be friends anymore—that gives a hint of the bond they had, not just mother and son, but something else.

Most times we want a play to make sense with a clear story. Pat & Skee is not that kind of play. The audience is challenged to wade into the play almost in the middle. That first extended scene does not really establish who these people are or why we should be interested, but that’s the challenge—to keep up and be engaged.

Sky Gilbert also directed this and again his choices are intriguing. Characters move from one area to another for no reason except to change locations. The music is stopped and started without a clear idea of how the piece is served by its inclusion.

However, sometimes it’s not important to be able to figure out a play. What is important is to appreciate the telling. Pat & Skee is such an example. Sky Gilbert wanted to know why his parents divorced when he was fifteen-years-old. The questions bedeviled and confounded him for his life. He has passed on those questions to his audience to figure out in their own way. Fascinating.

Theatre Aquarius presents:

Plays until March 12, 2022

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes, approx.

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