by Lynn on June 24, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Blyth Memorial Hall, Blyth, Ontario. Plays until July 8, 2023.

Written by Sophia Fabiilli

Directed by Krista Jackson

Set and costumes by Sue LePage

Lighting by Louise Guinand

Sound by Lyon Smith

Cast: Lucy Hill

Nora McLellan

Justin Otto

Amy Rutherford

Blair Williams

“Buoyant, very funny, lively and leaves you breathless with laughing.”

As Tolstoy said (at the beginning of “Anna Karenina:”) “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” He could be talking about Mavis (Nora McLellan) and her family in Liars at a Funeral.

No one is talking to anyone in the family: Mavis’ daughter, Evelyn (Amy Rutherford), is estranged and living in Montreal; Evelyn’s marriage broke up and her husband Wayne (Blair Williams) married Evelyn’s twin sister Sheila, who has since passed away. Needless to say the sisters didn’t talk to each other. And Mavis’ twin granddaughters, Dee Dee and Mia (both played by Lucy Hill) are not talking to each other as well. There seems to be a curse in that family of twin girls who then don’t talk to each other for whatever reasons. Mavis has to do something drastic to stop the curse and get the family talking to each other again. So she plans her own ‘fake’ death and her funeral too, which, she figures, will get everybody to attend and hence come together. Only her granddaughter Dee Dee (Lucy Hill) and Dee Dee’s friend Quint (Justin Otto) who works at the funeral home, know about the plan.

But things go wrong, as they do, when the funeral home director, Leorah (Amy Rutherford), comes back early after being away.  Things go into overdrive in trying to keep Leorah from seeing Mavis (who spends a lot of time climbing into and out of her casket as she tries to bring off this trick).

Playwright Sophia Fabiilli has written a devilishly funny, complicated farce. Fabiilli has a wonderful facility with language and the jokes come naturally from people who are funny and irreverent. To ramp up the laughs not only do people enter and exit rooms just as someone arrives that they should not see, Fabiilli does it with twins. To further complicated matters and raise the humour bar, almost the whole cast plays two parts. You can imagine…. Doors are always swinging open or shut with characters entering and exiting and it’s done quickly, as farces should move.

Director Krista Jackson has a keen sense of timing, pace and humour. How does one keep it all straight? Who comes in the room just as someone is leaving? What twin is it? Did the actor put on the right costume for the right character? Most important, is this the scene where the ‘zipper’ is up or down? And of course, a neat trick that got my eyes popping—if a twin sister climbs into the casket to hear how things are going ‘out there,’ how did she then get out of the casket (without us seeing her) to play the other twin who just came in the door? I know how it was done, it’s still a neat trick.

And the cast…what a group of established pros and two new comers (new to me). Nora McLellan is Mavis, buoyant, committed, funny, anxious that this scheme work and loving her family. Nora McLellan invests Mavis with such good will and energy you want this to work out even if she might not have been the best of mothers in the past.

Amy Rutherford plays Evelyn the estranged daughter, with a sense of concern at how she will be perceived—she has secrets. She is a caring woman, kind, loving and wary of what is going on around her. As Leorah, the raunchy, sexually charged funeral home director Amy Rutherford is free-spirited, coy and alluring. It’s lovely seeing Blair Williams on stage again. he plays Frank, ‘posing’ as Evelyn’s boyfriend from Montreal, who is attentive and tries hard to appear ‘macho.’ Blair Williams also plays Wayne, Evelyn’s ex-husband. Wayne drinks too much and is a bit of a pushy boor. Lucy Hill plays both Dee Dee and Mia, twin sisters with different attitudes and personalities. Justin Otto plays both Quint the awkward, insecure assistant at the funeral home who is sweet on Dee Dee, and Justin Otto also plays Cam, a lively jock who loves Mia. I look forward to see more work from Lucy Hill and Justin Otto. When an actor plays two characters, they are different in so many details and ways. It shows an acting company at the top of their game.

Sue LePage’s set design of the funeral home is tasteful and efficient. The costumes are witty, sly and slinky in the case of Leorah who wears a form-fitting top and patterned black tights and black boots. Louise Guinand shines a flattering light on the whole enterprise.

Liar’s at a Funeral is a hoot and worth a trip to the Blyth Festival.

Blyth Festival presents:

Runs until July 8, 2023

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (1 intermission)

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