I have a bias. I enjoy theatre. I feel I should tell you this, as my review of the MTC’s recent main stage offering, Unnecessary Farce, is well seated in the fact that I enjoy a night out at the theatre. I believe the strength of the play lies in the assumption that there are a lot of people like me. As I watched the play unfold I felt the full house confirm this theory through laughter, small comments about observations or repeating lines just heard, proving they we’re fully engaged in the play and confirming us as the 8th cast member. Actors are often told to allow space for the audience, and in Unnecessary Farce, the audience was willingly playing its role.
Steven Schipper directed this cast of MTC perennials into the world of physical comedy as set by playwright Paul Slade Smith. The premise and the story drivers are cliché rich, but the playwright and the director are self assuming and arguably, that’s the reason the play works. The barely comprehensible Scott, the bumbling cops, the gratuitous physical situation that leads to false gay presumptions, all work because the play is nestled in a style that is all too familiar to the audience, and a style that is well received.
The task is not an easy one, as the cast must find there rhythm as a group, and when they do, the story flows nicely and convincingly, allowing for great moments of collective laughter. However, in a play with a LOT of physical comedy, it takes a LOT of practice to make everything seem smooth, natural and undirected. Furthermore, the cast is challenged that in physical comedy there are many unpredictable moments. On opening night this might have included a plant being knocked over, a key falling from the night stand, an uncooperative shirt sleeve. The actors must always be “on” ready to adapt, forcing a presence even when there not delivering a line. The audience will undoubtedly notice a few “glitches”, but the audience understands the premise and what is demanded of these actors, live, on stage, that don’t have the option of a second take. On opening night about two thirds of the way into the play Paul Essiembre and Ava Darrach-Gagnon broke character and struggled not to laugh along with the audience who thought Tom Keenan’s grunts we’re perfectly cute and pathetic. Instead of being judged harshly, the audience recognized the moment applauded the actors, encouraging them along, and reminding them, we’re here with you, we think its funny too, it’s okay. With that Paul and Ava nodded to one another and re-engaged in the farce that is the play.
I started by stating my bias. I like going to the theatre. I like walking out of the theatre and extending the evening with a pint or two. Now with Peg Beer co. down the block from the MTC, my date and I headed there. Sitting in the beer hall we commented on the set, the strong female comedic tradition in Winnipeg, the appreciation the crowd had for every actor, etc, etc, etc. bottom line, theatre is fun. Unnecessary Farce offers a cast that is having fun and that includes the 8th cast member, us.
Unnecessary Farce plays at the MTC’s John Hirch Mainstage till April 23rd.