THEATRE

A joker’s wild comedy

JANE O’HARA January 11 1988
THEATRE

A joker’s wild comedy

JANE O’HARA January 11 1988

A joker’s wild comedy

THEATRE

When he was only 7, Tom Wood began to display a theatrical bent—and an offbeat sense of humor. Then living with his parents in Jasper Place, a middle-class suburb of Edmonton, he wrote his first play, Talullah Baghead the Goonie Gal. To create a stage curtain, he hung a blanket over the clothesline in the basement, where he performed his drama every day despite the lack of an audience. For Wood, acting was not so much a calling as a way for the unco-ordinated boy to avoid sports. “That was my way to shine,” recalled the red-haired Wood, who was schooled by Roman Catholic nuns until he went to university. “Sports scared the shit out of me—I could barely walk.”

These days, Wood, 37, has no trouble attracting audiences. Last week at the Vancouver Playhouse, tickets were selling briskly before the Dec. 31 opening of his hyperkinetic smash hit B-Movie, The Play. When it ran a year ago at Toronto Workshop Productions, demand for tickets was so great that its run was extended to eight weeks from three. On March 24 B-Movie will return to Toronto’s Centrestage for one month. And now, the playwright is working on the second draft of a film adaptation, BMovie, The Motion Picture, to be produced by Edmonton-based Filmwest Associates. For Wood, who is also a versatile actor equally at home in comedy—he has a starring role in B-Movie—

and Shakespearean drama, the play is bringing financial rewards that elude most theatre people. “I have been acting for 17 years and lived just above the poverty line,” he said. But last year, with B-Movie, Wood finally achieved an upper-middle-class income.

B-Movie, The Play is a zany satirical farce that brims with overwrought physical comedy and crazy Hollywood clichés.

Wood plays Art Findell, a low-budget Canadian film-maker who relives moments from old movies when he feels stressed. He is desperate to convince an American soap-opera actress (Dana Brooks) to appear in his first feature film: an

inane update of Oedipus Rex in which a male stripper plays the leading man. Findell’s film-obsessed partner amid the movie mayhem is Stan, played by Toronto-based actor Stephen Ouimette. As the complex plot tumbles from crisis to crisis—touching on death, sex and violence along the way—it is clear that Wood wrote the comedy partly to grapple with personal demons. “All of Art Findell’s paranoia is based strongly on Tom’s own fear,” said Ouimette, who appeared in last year’s Toronto production and will travel back to

Toronto with the play this year. Added Vancouver actress Nicola Cavendish, Wood’s friend and former collaborator: “He is a big shopping bag full of neuroses.” Wood drafted the first lines of B-Movie as a way to kill time when he was unemployed in Vancouver in 1982. The play began as a joint effort with Ouimette, an old friend who had then suspended his acting career to work in a Vancouver bakery. The two would meet in a downtown McDonald’s restaurant, sharing ideas over cups of coffee. Wood had grown up watching double features every Saturday afternoon in order to escape his dreary suburban life, and he was obsessed with creat_ ing a play about movies’ effect 8 on people. He recalled, “I wanted e to do something on how movies Q had warped me.”

After completing their first draft, Ouimette and Wood went their separate ways—and B-Movie ended up in Wood’s bottom drawer. Meanwhile, Wood began working with Cavendish. Together, they wrote North Shore Live, a hilarious, enormously successful comedy lampooning television talk shows, which was mounted in Vancouver, Edmonton and Ottawa. Encouraged by that show’s success, Wood started rewriting B-Movie in 1984, while he was performing in George Bernard Shaw’s Back to Methuselah at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-theLake, Ont. In 1986 it opened at Edmonton’s Phoenix Theatre, directed by Robert Baker, Wood’s friend since the two studied drama at the University of Alberta. Said Baker, who is directing the Vancouver and Toronto productions: “B-Movie is a big ticket for all of us who have been involved in it.”

But Wood’s associates say that they are amazed that he is not already a household name. Said Ouimette: “I am surprised that more people have not cottoned on to him yet.” That is likely to change as Wood expands his horizons. Now based in Toronto, he is currently working on a comedy-thriller for the stage. And along with Baker, he says that he hopes to launch his own theatre company. Ambitious—and driven by a manic sense of humor—Wood seems determined to make the country die laughing.

— JANE O’HARA in Vancouver