With her fine eye for detail, Winnipeg writer Sandra Birdsell has built a reputation as one of the country’s finest writers. Her short stories have brought to life the lower-class Lafreniere family and their reticent, small-town emotions. The Revival is an attempt to transplant the Lafrenieres from the page to the stage. But while Birdsell’s script contains some careful, intelligent writing, the conversion fails.
Set in 1956, the drama focuses on Mika Lafreniere (Sherry Bie), a Mennonite woman who holds one-sided conversations with God, and on her husband, Maurice (Lee J. Campbell), an uneducated Métis barber who brims with uncommon anger when he has had too much beer. Thrown into the mix is the couple’s 15-year-old daughter, Betty (Leslie-Anne Sanders), and Mika’s born-again former beau, Peter (Ric Reid), who has returned from the United States to lead the community choir in a massive religious revival meeting, which hangs over the play like a threatening storm.
The title is ironic: instead of experiencing revival, the Lafrenieres are completely unbalanced by the end of the play. Mika publicly humiliates Maurice for his drinking. He then destroys their cozy marital paradise by raping her, leaving Betty tormented by her parents’ mutual betrayal. Despite patches of strong acting from Bie and Campbell, the production is doomed by the script, which leaves too much action to the audience’s imagination. What Birdsell presents in The Revival is five characters desperately in search of a short-story author.
MURDER AT McQUEEN By Erika Ritter Directed by Jackie Maxwell
High-class soap opera, Murder at McQueen, by CBC Radio host Erika Ritter, examines the lives of four professional women. The play—currently premièring at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre—is set in the exclusive, all-female McQueen Club, where the characters meet regularly. Success and independence have taken their toll on relationships with the opposite sex, and much of their acerbic talk is devoted to the eternal problem of men. The fact that two of the women unwittingly share the same lover, talk-show host Rex Hahn (Michael
Ball), adds a melodramatic twist to their friendship and points to the central meaning of the play’s title. Murder at McQueen is about the small murders that people commit when trust is betrayed.
The best moments of the play sparkle with Ritter’s sardonic, slightly melancholy wit. The club’s owner, Mitzi Ford (Linda Sorensen), succinctly expresses her worries about growing old alone when she jokes that she has begun to “size up simple Billy, the crossing guard, as a romantic possibili-
ty.” But such lines, while entertaining, have little new to say about the problems of contemporary women. Of the characters, only Norah Tratt (Goldie Semple), a corporate lawyer and rockhard feminist, shows any complexity. The men in the drama—Hahn and private detective Jesse Butler (David Mcllwraith)—are victims of arrested development. Their lines are either woefully wooden or burdened with Ritter’s facile tendency to be cute instead of psychologically accurate. Murder at McQueen is a pleasantly tart diversion, but not much more.
GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS By David Mamet Directed by Bill Glassco
A harsh drama about the Chicago real estate scene, Glengarry Glen Ross, by American playwright David Mamet, serves up
some of the most sharply honed and satisfying theatre of the new Toronto season. The Pulitzer Prize-winning work, playing at the Bathurst Street Theatre, dramatizes Mamet’s contention that envy and greed are the engines that power North American capitalism—with often tragic consequences for the people involved. In spare but forceful street language, generously spiked with expletives and suspicious silences, Glengarry Glen Ross assaults the audience with the spectacle of five men competing viciously with each other—all for money. The miracle is that Mamet (Sexual
Perversity in Chicago) makes their torturous battle exhilarating to watch.
The play opens in a restaurant, where two employees of a real estate firm, Shelley Levene (Heath Lamberts) and John Williamson (Peter Blais), are arguing bitterly. His career as a salesman in eclipse, Shelley tries to persuade John, his office manager, to give him better “leads”—introductions to prospective buyers. John’s reluctance—and the mounting pressure to survive in his fiercely competitive environment—eventually drives Shelley to a crime that brings tragedy crashing on his head.
Lamberts’s deep immersion in Mamet’s colloquial idiom makes an achingly real Shelley. And Mamet’s play is so well-served by Bill Glassco’s smooth direction that the production transcends its seedy subject matter. Intelligent and gritty, Glengarry Glen Ross has the unmistakable feel of raw truth.
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