“an uproariously hilarious farce…”
Review by Douglas MacDonald
Remembrance Day was a fitting occasion for the opening night of The Fiancée, at the renowned Citadel Theatre, in downtown Edmonton. Holly Lewis, an actor, playwright, and dramaturg, had written an uproariously hilarious farce which portrays a young woman named Lucy (Helen Belay), who agrees to marry three separate men before they ship off overseas to serve in WWII.
More well-known as an actor, Holly Lewis has performed in theatre productions across the world and even portrayed characters in television shows, including the award-winning The Newsroom. Lewis’s aptitudes as an actor have clearly and intelligently delved into the field of writing and creation: The Fiancée has been shortlisted for the 55th annual Alberta playwriting competition.
The protagonist, Lucy, struggles to find her agency throughout the play, which runs approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes with one intermission. Her constant people pleasing comes at a great expense to herself and her sister (also her roommate), Rose (Patricia Cerra). The myriad conflicts that arise for these two penniless young women become catastrophically comedic as the acerbic new landlady, Ms. Crotch (Lora Brovold), demands the rent by the end of the day – seven o’clock.
Lucy has dug the two sisters into squalor: amenable to a fault, she has given the rent money to a door-to-door vacuum salesman named Chester (Sheldon Elter). The war is over, and the ceaseless ringing of the apartment buzzer is continuous knee-slapping laughter as one-by-one, the three fiancées appear at the sisters’ door, expecting the marriage they had been promised.
The Fiancée managed to tie up every loose end in a clever, succinct story that had the crowd guffawing in a way I hadn’t heard in a very long time. Cake-splatted in faces; vacuum cleaners exploded; doors slammed left, right, and centre. Wigs disguised identities while characters were shoved into bathrooms, pushed out balcony doors, and dragged into closets – just in time to avoid the next problem.
The set design, by Whittyn Jason, afforded all the in-and-outs that a farce demands. A quaint apartment with a living room which featured a balcony door opposite the bathroom (both easy escapes), a bedroom, and a raised kitchen area near the front door. The space was used with tremendous comedic effect throughout the performance, including a bit with the coat closet that featured the funniest physical comedy I have ever seen. However, I found that a fair amount of the set eroded the tangibility of the era. Too many classic items were unfound: a radio, first and foremost, while blankets and door handles were subtly out of place.
There were a couple of slight hiccups with the props, as some actors found themselves holding an item with nowhere to put it, stowing a pickle away in an apron pocket. Another issue occurred where the vacuum cord traversed (for comedy’s sake) across the entire stage – but wrapping up the cord after took up too much time and created a halting lull in the performance. However, the cumbersome weight of the vacuum and other props not only procured enormous laughter from the audience, but it also demonstrated the time period accurately.
A few lapses in timing and sound occurred during a shower scene; and the walls, just slightly thicker than cardboard, offended the noise quality and effect of slamming doors. The lighting was steady and warm and missed only one noticeable cue, fading the lights out one beat before they should have; just before the curtains fell at the end of the first act.
The costume design (Leona Brausen) was elegant where it desired to be, playful where it wanted to be, and simple where it knew it should be. Lucy was approachable, Rose was an independent woman who worked at the mill, and Ms. Crotch resembled Cruella de Vil, if she had gone into Real Estate instead of fashion. Each of the fiancés, veterans of WWII, were classically, yet uniquely portrayed in woolen, olive green trousers, with a pressed white button up shirt and a light brown tie.
The first fiancé to ring the buzzer was Dick (Tenaj Williams) who was brutally handsome and thought himself to “understand women”. Frequently, he was referred to as ‘dick’ much to the amusement of the audience. The farce had been turned on its head, no longer was it a misogynistic tale of control and mean-spiritedness, but instead, a story of two very different sisters trying to weave their way through adversity.
The next fiancé was named Manny (Farren Timoteo), and though the name was obvious enough, it didn’t receive the jokes that Dick and Ms. Crotch did. He was the antithesis to the androcentric Dick: he was more eager than suave, a puppy compared to the Rottweiler. Timoteo stole the show whenever he was onstage, whether he was in uniform, or wearing a tiny hand towel, singing, and dancing in glee, or openly weeping in the face of rejection.
Finally, the door knocked, and the third fiancé was introduced, Clark (also played by Sheldon Elter). He was a military captain, all business, which played out hilariously. One contention I had was that between playing the aloof, down-on-his-luck vacuum salesman, Chester, and the uptight, rule-abiding officer, Sheldon’s acting sometimes melted between the two opposites, where the captain would inherit an uncharacteristic hunch or flap of the arms that hinted, he was still slightly in the character of Chester. That said, his performance of both was sterling and he had one of my favourite lines in the play where he explains, with perfect concision, how he scaled the three-story apartment.
My least favourite line of the play, sadly, was the last one where, after everything is settled and cleverly concluded, the sisters agree to go and eat cake. If that was the answer, there could have been more allusion to it; there was a whiff, but not enough to warrant the last line, in my opinion.
Holly Lewis managed to create a new face for the farce: a feminist coming of age story that danced between an hysterical satire and a discerning remembrance of the tribulations that we must pay homage to and be grateful for.