Written by and Starring Sandra Shamas
Winter Garden Theatre
189 Yonge Street/416-872-5555 or

Reviewed by Joel Greenberg

Sandra Shamas is back in town and you know that she'll sell out before she's returned to her farm, just as with the other shows she has brought to the Winter Garden Theatre over the past ten years.

Heart's Desire, sub-titled Wit's End II, contains Shamas's reflections on reaching her mid-forties and the travails that come with contentment. The audience's laughter throughout the two hours is the only measure needed to acknowledge the bond between performer and viewer, so in synch is the pulse between them. If you know Shamas by reputation or peripherally through television or film clips, you might assume that her style is limited to a dedicated and protective circle of women. And in this, of course, you'd be wrong, misguided and lost.

Shamas's audience last night defied any definition. A sociologist would have been flummoxed. Shamas plays to everyone and, in turn, everyone responds by having a screaming good time.

The opening section of her show, in which she trumpets her unbridled enthusiasm for being 45 and having entered her decade of caring less and enjoying it more, yields the most non-stop quotient of laughter, hoots and occasional vocal retorts. Is there anything left to wring from the topic of menopause? If you thought you had heard it all, I'd suggest that you think again and give the lady a chance.

She follows the menopause section with stories and responses to her life as a single woman who lives on a farm. And the familiarity of city-chick-goes-to-the-country works to her advantage because she isn't pretending that she's the first to make such a move, though she may be the first to deliver anecdotes in a clear and open narrative line. And it's the combination of her stand-up delivery and psyche, with a deep regard for humanity, that elevates Heart's Desire to much more than a series of sketches or punch lines in some rough order based more on rhythm than purpose.

By the end of the evening, Shamas brings us into her private world enough for us to believe that we know her and her neighbours and without mockery, self or otherwise. She offers her insights without apology and we feel that she is blissfully adrift in a life that she wouldn't trade for any other. Whether this derives from her loose physical presence or whether it refers more to her cracking up with the audience, or both, is impossible to assess. (And since this is my first live experience with her I'd hate to learn that Shamas break-ups are staged in the manner of Vegas-style comics who time their 'corpsing' with the precision of air traffic controllers.)

The show is still finding its pace, especially with a few segues that leave Shamas and us in pause mode longer than we need be. But that, after all, is what a run is for and what her sure-to-be-sold-out-run will help to define.

The evening ends as Ms. Shamas offers us three pieces of advice. And they all point to the fact that, at a mere 45, she is in a place in her life that she never thought possible. For those who recall her early comedy and the drive she brought to her angst and neurotic self-absorption, Heart's Desire is a great comfort without ever being a cop-out.

Shamas is willing to grow and to learn and, yes, to accept success and happiness without having to carve it up for the sake of a joke. And maybe it's really her life in the country that has taught Shamas that comedy can also be served up whole.

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