BEAUTIFUL CITY By George F. Walker Directed by Bob White
Judging by his latest play, Beautiful City, writer George F. Walker is disgusted by the way progress is changing Toronto, his home town. Walker portrays a nearly soulless place where rampant consumerism makes a decent life impossible for lower income people. In the opening scene of his black farce, currently being staged by Toronto’s Factory Theatre, developer Tony Raft (Dean Hawes) is showing architect Paul Gallagher (Benedict Campbell) his plans for selling condominium units at $1.5 million each. Gallagher is writhing on the floor, the victim of an apparent appendicitis attack. But the callous Raft refuses to call an ambulance until Gallagher has commented on his project.
The wildly funny exaggeration of that scene is typical of a play that inflates subtle undercurrents of selfishness to absurd proportions. Raft’s American mother, Mary—played with icy precision by Patricia Collins—is greed personified: a svelte, mink-clad shark who heads a powerful crime empire. She meets her match in Gina Mae Sabatini (Deborah Kipp), a self-styled witch who works as a clerk in a discount store.
After the hospital fails to diagnose Paul’s illness, it is Gina who correctly tells him that his illness is psychosomatic: “There’s real life goin’ on here and you’re not part of it.” And so the battle lines are drawn between what Walker sees as yuppie artificiality and the more honest life of the poor, represented by Gina. That produces some preachy, maudlin speeches in the
play’s second half. But on the whole, Beautiful City eviscerates its targets with hilarious effectiveness.
MY DARLING JUDITH
By Norm Foster Directed by Janet Amos
With his flair for one-liners and talent for puncturing contemporary mores, Norm Foster has been called Canada’s Neil Simon. Certainly, his new play, My Darling Judith, attempts a similarly wry look at marriage and infidelity. The comedy, which opened the 20th season of Fredericton’s Theatre New Brunswick last week, turns on the attempts of David (John Blackwood), a manufacturer of men’s underwear and accessories, to win a quick, no-fault divorce in order to marry his mistress, Anna (Jenny Munday)—who fears that scandal would thwart her political ambitions. The pair decides to coerce Carl (Ron Gabriel), one of David’s salesmen, into seducing David’s wife, Judith (Caroline Yeager). Meanwhile, Foster (The Melville Boys) struggles awkwardly to introduce serious elements into Judith—independence and loneliness, selfishness and guilt.
The production, directed by Janet Amos, is well-paced and lively. And Yeager creates a daffy and engaging Judith, while Gabriel’s Carl, a man with a heart beneath his oozing obsequiousness, is hilarious. My Darling Judith offers a generous lather of good cheer and laughter—but absolutely nothing to think about.
ROYALTY IS ROYALTY By W.O. Mitchell Directed by Rick McNair
It is the 1950s, and Queen Elizabeth lí is about to make a whistle stop in Crocus, Sask. (population 400). In Royalty is Royalty, which opened last week at Winnipeg’s Manitoba Theatre Centre, W.O. Mitchell ( Who Has Seen the Wind) focuses on the dizzy expectation of a small town about to host a monarch’s visit. Two fámilies, the Abercrombies and the Mactaggarts, both expect their small daughters to present the Queen with a bouquet—but there is room for only one girl in the reception line. That teapot tempest is given a few extra stirs by Jake (William Dunlop) and the Kid (Alec McClure)—both resurrected from Mitchell’s popular radio scripts of the 1950s—who comment drolly on the action.
Mitchell’s version of the human comedy is always endearing, but little in the show pushes the hearts or minds of the audience into unknown country. The town’s representative Indian, Moses Lefthand—played with great dignity and incisiveness by Tom Jackson— comes closest when he resists the local racists, who want him to parade before the Queen in traditional garb. But Moses’ final, touching triumph only emphasizes the play’s distance from the plight of so many Canadian natives. Royalty is Royalty is sweet-tempered, nostalgic—and thoroughly escapist.
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