by Lynn on July 24, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Studio Theatre, Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont. until Oct. 1, 2022.

Written by Sunny Drake

Directed by ted witzel

Set by Michelle Tracey

Costumes by Joshua Quinlan

Lighting by Jareth Li

Composer and sound designer, Dasha Plett

Cast: Marion Adler

Verónica Hortigűela

Stephen Jackman-Torkoff

Robert King

John Koensgen

Richard Lam

Antonette Rudder (understudy to Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah

Rose Tuong

Every Little Nookie is a lively farce-like sex romp involving intergenerational groupings; ‘re-inventing’ a family unit of polyamorous and platonic room-mates searching for affordable housing and failing, and a sexually frustrated wife who can’t seem to just tell her husband what she ‘wants’ but has discovered the thrill of swingers parties. To some this might seem innovative, refreshingly bold and provocative. To those who are familiar with the theatre and the world, it’s derivative, tired and just a little bit infuriating.

The Story.  I’ll copy the programme note to ensure that every single point is introduced: “Empty-nest boomer couple Margaret and Kenneth lead a comfortable conventional life in the suburbs, enjoying their cozy routine of Scrabble, bridge and weekends at the cottage. Their polyamorous daughter, Annabel, lives downtown in a less-than-lavish rented property she shares with three others: her partner, Grace (a self-described social justice warrior who has just landed an improbable gig as a mall Santa); her non-binary friend Smash, who has now also become Grace’s lover; and her friend Crystal, a feminist academic who moonlights as a sex worker.

To help support themselves Annabel and her roommates secretly host weekend swingers’ parties for middle-aged suburbanites, using Annabel’s family home when her parents are away at the cottage. Returning unexpectedly one night, Margaret and Kenneth are initially shocked to find these orgiastic proceedings in full swing-et both eventually has to admit that they are also intrigued.

Meanwhile, Annabel has embarked on a new relationship with Matt, a straight single father. As she tries to sort out her feelings about her lovers and her life in general, and as Kenneth and Margaret try to figure out where their marriage is heading, a plethora of new complications arise. The search is on for creative solutions to all these conundrums. “

The Production. Before anything, you notice designer Michelle Tracey’s impressive wood slide that goes the whole width of the upper landing at the Studio Theatre down to the stage floor below, curving and then flattening out onto the stage. If characters need to get from the upper level to the stage they slide down, rarely taking the side staircase. Occasionally characters scamper up that daunting incline from the bottom to the top. (One does worry about the physical safety of any actor ‘asked’ to negotiate such a maneuver)

A bed, with a duvet and many cushions and pillows cover the curve of the slide to the flattened section. We are in the large suburban home of Margaret (Marion Adler) and Kenneth (John Koensgen). They enter in pajamas and together toss the many pillows and cushions from the top of the bed to the floor in front of the bed. They get under the duvet and begin to play scrabble with each other on their iPads. The banter is easy between these long-married boomers. But Margaret is obviously concerned by a lack of intimacy at this point in the marriage. She undoes a few buttons of her pajamas, trying to entice Kenneth. He doesn’t notice. Marion Adler, as Margaret, has a gentleness that seems to prevent her from addressing the issue. As Kenneth, John Koensgen is a kindly man, pre-occupied with issues at his office, not thinking of retiring and not aware of his needy wife. It’s a familiar situation: the physical intimacy going out of a marriage and a reluctance to address it. It’s the stuff of lots and lots of comedies.

Meanwhile, downtown Annabel (Rose Tuong), Margaret and Kenneth’s adopted queer daughter, is a struggling artist who lives with her roommates and ‘fam’ members who are: her non-binary friend Smash (they/them) (Stephen Jackman-Torkoff), Grace (Antonette Rudder) is Annabel’s partner, and spouts sound-bites, about social injustice, capitalism and the housing crisis. Grace is now also Smash’s lover; and finally rounding out the ‘fam’ is Crystal (Verónica Hortigűela), a feminist academic who moonlights as a sex worker to help facilitate the swinger parties.

Annabel ekes out a living trying to sell her art and by delivering food for UBER eats and helping with Smash’s swinger parties by ‘secretly’ loaning out her parents’ home to Smash for the parties.  Of course, Margaret and Kenneth return home unexpectedly to see the party in full swing. This proves to be the impetus for Margaret to be more daring sexually. She pairs off with Phoenix, a long-haired hippie from another era, played with laid-back ease by Robert King. One might say that Phoenix rises to the occasion that Margaret needs. (Well why else would you name him “Phoenix”?). Kenneth finds a good conversationalist in Crystal as they talk about life, art and sex in the quieter moments of the parties. And then Annabel begins a relationship with Matt (an accommodating Richard Lam), a straight, single father.

The dialogue seems more like talking points of note on economics, social welfare, housing, sex, capitalism, the haves vs the have nots and wretched excess rather than conversation between believable, fully developed characters. For example, Smash (an energetic Stephen Jackman-Torkoff) seems less a character and more an example of a couch-surfing lost soul with little substance, although they took kindly on Margaret. In all of these relationships, there seems to be a lack of responsibility of consequences of one’s actions.  

While not a farce in the buffoon sense of the word, Every Little Nookie has that complicated story in which all you want to do is say: “Stop! You, talk to that person and explain your problem. You, deal with your friends and family with more clarity. Ask permission. Get some character. You know how to solve this problem because it’s in front of you and it’s in the suburbs.” But of course, that’s not realistic in such an unnecessarily complicated play.

Director ted witzel has directed an energetic production with characters overemoting, scurrying all over the set, sliding down the slide and even charging up the incline. Jareth Li’s lighting is a complex array of cues that witzel maneuvers with ease.  In his esoteric, intellectual program note witzel dwells on queerness in the rehearsal hall and how this made the cast and other participants move with care and the importance of consent. Rightly so.

Now let’s continue that with the audience. There is one scene in which characters come into the audience and approach someone in the first row and give them a gift-wrapped box and ask them to open it now. Inside is a funny saying that the person might or might not have agreed with but the joke is told—on them? In future, let’s institute a new rule to embrace, should a director or playwright feel the need to come into the audience to make a little joke work by having them ‘participate’; ask their consent first. Truly. The place where the audience sits is their ‘safe space.’ Respect it! (The pandemic has made me militant about a couple of things—start on time because we are almost all in the room, and so is the cast, crew etc. and don’t even think of audience participation in which you generally make fun of them, without asking permission/consent first.)

There is a gratuitous nude scene in which Margaret is on the upper level, naked except for something she holds in front of her pubic area. As Margaret, Marion Adler is quiet and even nonchalant as she tweezes some pubic hairs to the horror of Annabel below. A bit of ageism there after all the effort of trying to look embracing to everybody; so much for the idea of the beauty of the naked body, but not if it’s one’s boomer parent. I found it interesting that Annabel’s body part of choice in her artwork is the vagina. One of her paintings is used as a table for a dinner party of the ‘fam.’ Is the nude scene for shock value? (Sigh).

Comment. Playwright Sunny Drake is a talented theatre maker. His previous show, CHILD-ish had adult actors give verbatim performances of children’s exact words on love, the world and life, that was sensitive, thoughtful, perceptive and embracing of both the world of the child and the adult. It was wonderful.

Every Little Nookie misses in trying to suggest a new paradigm for the future of intergenerational connection, relationships, sharing everything, or negotiating the world, because  it’s so derivative. Countless plays before have done it already and done it better.

In another program note between Philip Geller, the Assistant Director of the play and Syrus Marcus Ware, a Vanier Scholar whose work explores social justice among others, writes: “This play is exciting, in part because you see something you don’t always see, which is that the parents are in the role of the learners.” Excuse me? In play after play in which there is a generational divide, it’s common to see the young generation teaching the older generation (not just parents). For example, if you go outside the Studio Theatre and over several blocks to the Festival Theatre, you will come to a production of Hamlet in which Hamlet spends part of the play teaching his mother the truth about the death of his father/her husband. Hamlet instructs his killer-uncle he knows the truth. In another production at the Tom Patterson Theatre is All’s Well That Ends Well in which Helen teaches her adoptive mother of her character and the King of France of her abilities and integrity. And later in the season there will be a play in which young people teach their elders a new truth about how they see All’s Well That Ends Well. I so love programme notes. We see how directors and scholars muse on the play, and then see how the play and other works contradict the programme note.

Every Little Nookie both the play and the production offer a weak attempt at the younger generation embracing the older generation because of its veiled smugness. The play is unnecessarily complicated but that’s where the attempt at humour lies. And the solutions are obvious if only the characters would stop navel-gazing and see it. It’s quite telling that the solution for those seeking shelter is in the suburbs, where they have all escaped from.

Every Little Nookie is ageist, contradictory to its all-embracing message and full of characters who blather woke soundbites without a sense of character or responsibility. Being irresponsible for ones’ actions and ignoring the consequences of those actions are for someone else to solve.  Every Little Nookie left me cranky.     

The Stratford Festival presents:

Plays until: Oct. 1, 2022.

Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes. (1 intermission)

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