AISLE SAY Toronto
Directed by Morris Panych
CanStage/Bluma Appel Theatre until November 5
27 Front Street East / 416-368-3110 OR www.canstage.com
Habeas Corpus is an early play by Alan Bennett that sets its
sights on the frivolous hedonism of Britain
in the late 1960ís. Evoking an era that came under sharper attack by writers
such as Joe Orton, this farce hardly gets started before it evaporates. An
enthusiastic cast does its collective best to generate the heat that any good
farce must kindle, but a massive set and a general lack of directorial focus
makes this production a few laughs short of a romp.
and goings in a doctorís surgery set the scene that is reminiscent of such
typical West End fare as Run For Your Wife. Is
Bennett lacerating the genre or is he using it to his own critical advantage?
Itís hard to tell in this production, though why else would so skilled a writer
borrow such a tired template? The issue, then, is why CanStage has selected the
play as its season opener. The creative team, especially Morris Panych (director)
and Ken MacDonald (set and costume designer), fail to help answer
the question as the evening trundles along without textual or visual
large cast only Fiona Reid is absolutely in the world of the material. In
spite of being dressed in hideous clothing (and everyone on stage is saddled
with costumes that punctuate the eraís vacuity and the charactersí overall
tastelessness) she attacks every thought and nuance that Bennett has provided.
What a shame that CanStage didnít select a play such as What the Butler Saw
– Reid could handle her way through that treacherous world with a
ferocity that such material rarely receives.
The rest of
the company is fairly heavy-weight – Sheila
McCarthy, Joseph Ziegler and David
Storch among them – but the
variety of acting styles suggests that the director has been too generous in
allowing everyone to define his or her own approach. Storch is a frenzy of
vocal and physical gyrations while Ziegler, for all his warmth and easy charm,
stays outside the action and never pays the price that farce demands of those
who cheat and strive to betray. Melody
A. Johnson and Cyrus Lane twist themselves into pretzel-like shapes as the
nerdy he and she, but the humour they aim for is almost always too much of an
Appel Theatre is a silent accomplice here, too. The stage is too large for most
plays and CanStage seems to prefer filling the space to using what a specific
play really requires. I imagine that Habeas
Corpus could be more engaging at
a venue like Berkeley Street,
where all characters can come and go without having to run a marathon to reach
the wings. But the Bluma is there and CanStage is using it, as they must.
Curiously, MacDonald and Panych solved this problem of space with The Overcoat. But that was an abstract piece where movement
and dance demanded the expansive terrain. The world of farce, with or without
doors, is not served by such excess.
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