Theatre

A play on a play on a play

Patricia Keeney Smith March 5 1979
Theatre

A play on a play on a play

Patricia Keeney Smith March 5 1979

A play on a play on a play

Theatre

Dress rehearsal in a small Toronto alternate theatre. Harassed director pleads with harassed cast to sit down and talk rationally like adults. “But we’re not adults—we’re actors!”

comes the desperate reply. Jitters, David French’s first original work in four years, is a funny, perceptive look at the most precarious of lifestyles. The combination of French, Bill Glassco and the Tarragon Theatre has, in the past, been effective—Leaving Home and Of the Fields Lately are staples of the Canadian theatre. This time it is dazzlingly effective: the Vancouver Playhouse and the Kawartha Festival have already asked for production rights.

Cast, director, writer, even stage manager and assistants are about to be thrown into the personalized lion’s den

of the Big New York Producer, who will sit in judgment at the opening performance of The Care and Treatment of Roses. Jitters opens in the middle of Roses, a rather sentimental, stylish melodrama with its beige-on-beige set and hanging plants. Abruptly, lights go up: the baby-faced, jack-in-the-box director (Miles Potter) stomps from the audience onto the set, demanding that one of the actors “please stop shuffling your feet.” With the reply, “But I’m trying to show nervous anxiety,” we are plunged into a berserk world of tenuous egos, instant loves and hates, contradictory interpretations of part and script

(and life), all complicated by the vagaries of faulty props and lost lines. Illusion and reality are almost incestuously related.

Much of the friction centres on one irascible Patrick Flanagan, played with machinegun energy and flat snappy Irish vowels by David Calderisi, who convincingly effects an impulsive Italian lover in Roses. Charmion King as Jess, hoping to make her New York comeback, delivers one searing speech, occasioned largely by a wig that makes her resemble an “octogenarian kewpie doll,” but is also a scapegoat for fear and disappointment. Philip Mastorakis (Les Carlson), the resurrected actor, manages by simply acting himself in Roses— bumbling, lovable, terrified—to become the critic’s darling—an astute commentary on

theatre reviewing.

A sense of pacing, structure and some ingenuity of design (David Moe’s set turns backside front) contribute to a wisely subdued second act in the dressing rooms. Revealed is how cruelly communal the theatre is for its essentially lonely and vulnerable people— particularly for playwrights, guardians of the language, who still agonize over every nuance in this age of jointly evolved scripts. With incisive depiction of character and brilliant verbal wit, Jitters testifies to a Canadian theatre tradition finally sophisticated enough to laugh at itself.

Patricia Keeney Smith