Performing Arts
© Mike Keenan

A shallow archaeological dig at Shaw's Court House Theatre

Thom Marriott Remember the good, old days when - We were all more or less happy and comfortable, good tempered and jolly - until these plays began to put ideas into our heads. This is not an ancient Greek citizen grumbling about a troublesome playwright named Sophocles. Rather, it's a character in Shaw Festival's Drama At Inish, A Comedy. Of course, that's precisely the idea behind the performing arts from Greeks onward - creating vital experiences causing us to question narrow, pre-ordained ideas, forcing minds to open and think critically such that change is provoked if not evoked. Yes, it sounds crazy in the world of a Stephen Harper majority, doesn't it?

With Drama At Inish, A Comedy, Director, Jackie Maxwell, attempts to accomplish this heroic goal but not in any consequential manner because the basic conceit here is airy-fairy, paper thin. One must be wary of play titles that inform one that this is indeed a comedy, just in case you couldn't figure it out yourself.

Once again, Shaw's prodigious acting talent is on display - experienced thespians and wonderful sets courtesy of William Schmuck, but it's all plume and nuance, brief blips of blarney, emaciated characterization, leaving us to admire such microcosmic items as the fine Irish dialect thanks to coach Edda Sharpe - exhibited on stage. Listen how Donna Belleville (Annie Twohig) warbles wonderfully in Irish. Ditto for husband Ric Reid (John Twohig) aided by the drink. Craig Pike (Eddie Twohig) tries to woo Julia Course (Christine Lambert) in frustrated Irish lilt and Mary Haney opts intermittently in and out of Irish brogue as Lizzie Twohig, quite consistent with the dippy role in which she excels; but ultimately, watching this play (dare I say, evolve) reminds one of flipping quickly through cartoons embedded in the New Yorker. Mind you, New Yorker cartoons are a cut above.

One summer, after a disastrous previous season of poorly-attended comedic presentations, the local priest and politician (Peter Krantz as MP Peter Hurley) of a little Irish seaside town of Inish (shades of NOTL! ) invite drama into their lives - which results in unhappy yet oxymoronically merry results. Enter the De La Mare Repertory Company, composed primarily of Thom Marriott (Hector de la Mare) and Corrine Koslo, his theatrically affected wife. (Constance Constancia) Thom hectors and Corrine remains... constant ... each according to their appellations which provide essential if not minuscule description required for each. Marriott's booming voice and size is perfect for the melodramatic role in which he engages, but he is reduced absurdly to the simple yet safe art of phantom bullfighter, broadly waving his ample cape at every fleeting opportunity - with gusto and aplomb. Corrine remains artistically compressed like a smouldering cigarette, held in check by a shot of whiskey when appropriate. Their joint Ché Guevara-like mission in life is to revolutionize the indifferent souls of their simple audience with serious, intellectual plays from the likes of Ibsen, Strindberg and Chekhov, and they draw decent crowds until the town begins to dramatically change. Formerly cheerful types now see the world darkly through the half-empty glass of the dramatic heavyweights.

Corrine Koslo (Constance Constantia) Ric Reid (John Twohig) Peter Krantz (Peter Hurley) Emily Cooper photo Julia Course (Christine Lambert) Craig Pike (Eddie Twohig) David Cooper photo Julia Course Ken James Stewart (John Hegarty) Mary Haney  (Lizzie Twohig) Emily Cooper photo Ric Reid Thom Marriott (Hector de la Mare) & Corrine Koslo (Constance Constantia) Emily Cooper photo

"This play, and playwright Lennox Robinson, are another part of our 'archaeological' programming at the Shaw Festival," says Jackie Maxwell, Artistic Director and palaeontologist. An important figure in Irish theatre, Robinson's plays were very popular in the 1930s but are rarely seen today." Perhaps we should keep it that way. Or at least perform Inish as light lunch time fare.

Robinson opens the play with a description of the town of Inish, "A small seaside town in Ireland of not much importance save for the three summer months when it is a point of attraction for people seeking sea breezes and a holiday." John and Annie Twohig are the owners of the Seaview Hotel and every summer the town invites a comedy troupe to town to entertain the tourists. After last year's troupe, something must be done to "improve the tone of the place" and the De La Mare Repertory Company arrives to the rescue. Hector and Constance declare that profits do not motivate them - there is something deeper at work: "They may revolutionize some person's soul. I mean that some young man in the audience may see himself there on the stage, in all his lust, in all his selfishness, in all the cruelty of his youth - a young man such as your son ... Or some middle-aged man, in all outward appearances respectable, will see himself stripped naked, the sham cloak of virtue torn from his shoulders, and he will stand exposed as the rotten sham he is. Women will see themselves vain, shallow, empty-headed, scheming for power, scheming for husbands, scheming for lovers." You readily see how this vision might undermine the town. Far less inspired Sarah Palin and Anthony Weiner!

Alas, Eddie, son of the hotel owners, questions his life and the world; Michael, the hotel servant, (Andrew Bunker) dreams of being an actor. And during this whimsical yet shallow archaeological dig, I dream lustily of comfortable seats in Shaw's cramped Court House Theatre. Drama at Inish - A Comedy, by Lennox Robinson is directed by Jackie Maxwell. Running time is approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes including one intermission. Runs: May 6 to October 1 at Court House Theatre

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