Wednesday, November 01, 2000

Up, Up and Awry

Sean McQuaid’s review of Seven Stories from The Buzz

Seven Stories is actually at least eight stories, examining the life of an apparently suicidal man who is perched on a seventh-floor ledge and the lives of the various people behind the ledge’s seven windows. As the ledge-walker ponders his own destiny, he observes and interacts with the building’s inhabitants.

Ben Kinder gives a conscientious and nuanced performance as the man on the ledge, but sometimes seems too subdued to effectively engage the audience as the play’s focal point. This may well be a conscious decision on the part of Kinder or director Lisa MacNeil, since Kinder’s character is repressing a good deal of his emotion for much of the play, and since a subdued Kinder gives the supporting cast more room to show off their own skills during their various turns on stage. Still, Kinder seems a bit flat in the early going, though he more than makes up for it later. It’s a difficult role since it keeps Kinder on stage throughout the play and confines him to an awkward space, but it’s a marathon he runs steadily and finishes strongly.

All the other cast members play at least two parts as the assorted inhabitants of the building. To name a few of these parts and their players, Greg Ellard is hilarious and strangely convincing as a paranoid psychiatrist who needs more help than the man on the ledge does; Nicholas Kenny is gratingly phony as the con artist Marshall but seems surprisingly genuine in the character’s more sincere moments; Monique Lafontaine is memorably caustic as Nurse Wilson; and Barb Rhodenhizer scores a triumph as religious fanatic Rachel and centenarian shut-in Lillian Wright.

Rhodenhizer’s Rachel is a spookily strident weirdo who fancies herself a stand-in for God, while her Lillian is a gracious old soul who ultimately helps the man on the ledge perceive the possibilities and potential of his own reality.  Katy Baker and Greg Stapleton round out the cast in several capably realized roles, though Stapleton gives a somewhat forced performance as the lawyer Rodney.

Under MacNeil’s direction, the various actors move smoothly from role to role and window to window in a simple, functional set (MacNeil’s design) that captures the story’s setting nicely.

Morris Panych’s script is funny and thought-provoking at the same time, a serious human drama that isn’t afraid to dabble in moments of whimsy and flights of metadramatic fancy, and MacNeil’s production conveys it all with both a compassionate eye and a knowing wink.

Seven Stories was produced by ACT (a community theatre) at the Carrefour Theatre in October.

- Sean McQuaid

Sean McQuaid is a freelance writer who lives in the Charlottetown area and is affiliated with local theatrical groups such as TheatrePEI. He will be directing ACT’s production of Julius Caesar in 2000.

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