by Lynn on June 7, 2024

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Thousand Islands Playhouse, Gananoque, Ont. Plays until June 22, 2024.

Written by Sophia Fabiilli

Directed by Krista Jackson

Set and costumes by Sue LePage

Lighting by Louise Guinand

Sound by Lyon Smith

Cast: Deborah Drakeford

Lucy Hill

Nora McLellan

Justin Otto

Courtenay Stevens

Note: I first saw Liars at a Funeral last summer at the Blyth Festival. It had the same cast as this one except for two new actors (Deborah Drakeford and Courtenay Stevens) here at Thousand Islands Playhouse. This is not a remount. It’s more like a refresh with director Krista Jackson revisiting the production to see if scenes can be funnier, re-imagined and deeply felt. She has also used the many and various strengths of Deborah Drakeford and Courtenay Stevens to re-imagine the characters, and not do a copy of the previous actors. The result is a fresh, very funny and moving production. Much of the following review re-uses the Blyth review with appropriate changes to reflect the new actors and scenes that have been heightened. I was so glad I saw Liars at a Funeral in Thousand Islands Playhouse.

“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 (Deborah Drakeford), is estranged and living in Montreal; Evelyn’s marriage broke up and her husband Wayne (Courtenay Stevens) 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 (Deborah Drakeford), 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?

The cast is terrific . 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. And McLellan has a gift in being funny and moving at the same time. Her determination as Mavis to keep things upbeat but knowing it could all go bust at any time. There is an urgency to ensuring this works. Nora McLellan is terrific.

Deborah Drakeford plays Evelyn the estranged daughter, with an uptight anxiety at being there at all. She has secrets she can’t share but knows she needs to be at this funeral because she has been estranged from her mother, and regrets it. Evelyn is a caring woman, kind, loving and wary of what is going on around her. As Leorah, the raunchy, sexually charged funeral home director Deborah Drakeford is commanding in her tight leather pants, free-spirited, coy and alluring. As uptight as Evelyn is, Leorah is as prowling and sexually charged.  Courtenay Stevens plays both Frank and Wayne and brings his considerable talents as a clown to both roles. He has a dexterousness in his body language and knows how to mind a line for a laugh. Frank is ‘posing’ as Evelyn’s boyfriend from Montreal. He is attentive and tries hard to appear ‘macho.’ Courtenay Stevens also plays Wayne, Evelyn’s ex-husband. Wayne drinks too much and is a bit of a pushy boor. Again, Stevens is varied and very funny.  

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 was mighty impressed with Lucy Hill and Justin Otto last year at Blyth—two young actors who were new to me. This year their performances are deeper, funnier and very confident.

Sue LePage’s set design of the funeral home is tasteful and efficient. The décor is deep purple. There are four doors for fast entrances and exits. Sue LePage’s costumes are witty, sly and slinky in the case of Leorah who wears a form-fitting top and patterned black tights or leather pants and black boots. Louise Guinand shines a flattering light on the whole enterprise.

Liar’s at a Funeral is wildly funny and made more so in this production. See it at the Thousand Islands Playhouse to get your heart pumping with the humour and joy of it, and then go out on the deck of the theatre and calm yourself by looking at the beauty of those thousand islands in the shimmering water.

Thousand Islands Playhouse presents:

Runs until June 22, 2024

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (1 intermission)

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