With the attention Mad Men has garnered in recent years, it isn’t difficult to see where some of the ongoing interest in playwright Stewart Lemoine’s plays comes from. With an aesthetic that recalls a different era, Cocktails at Pam’s will be the third Lemoine penned show to hit Vancouver stages in as many years.
“There is a kind of elegant madness about them all,” says out gay director Stephen Heatley of Lemoine’s work. “I think they all harken back to a more innocent time or at least a less complicated time”.
And while Cocktails at Pam’s predates Don Draper by almost twenty years, Heatley does see how the recent interest in Lemoine’s work could be due to the popular AMC television series.
“The aesthetic of Mad Men and their slightly arch lives has created some interest in this particular take on the world,” considers Heatley, but who in the same breath looks to 19th century Russia for another explanation.
“Not to put curse on his work or anything, but there is also something Chekhovian about it,” he admits. “This is a story about a very simple event that turns into this great tragedy. He uses language in an elegant but accessible way. He finds the society characters that he writes about amusing, but endearing.”
Unfolding in real-time at a 1965 cocktail party that goes terribly wrong, Cocktails at Pam’s is most definitely a comedy, though Heatley at times refers to it as drama. “It is a comedy for us to watch, but a drama for Pam. It isn’t very funny for the person experiencing it.”
With its large cast of eleven, this equity collective is a bit of an oddity in terms of its sheer number of actors, but for Heatley it is something that he is used to dealing with, as a teacher in the theatre department at the University of British Columbia.
“There’s something really interesting about having a lot of people in a room, planting a couple of seeds as a director and watching it take it off,” says Heatley. “Emerging actors do it as well, but it usually takes a little longer to get there.”
Despite its large cast, the show will be mounted in the relatively tiny theatre space at Studio 1398 on Granville Island, something Heatley admits is a bit of a challenge, but manageable for a couple of reasons.
“We have a brilliant designer in Lauchlin Johnston whose ability to make sense of small spaces is pretty amazing,” he says. “It also helps that there are three characters that never sit down. When you’re trying to negotiate that many people it feels a lot like playing a board game.”
Despite evoking an image of a board game, another pastime some would consider from a different era, Heatley does give pause when asked about the last time he went to a cocktail party.
“The idea of the cocktail hour doesn’t happen as often,” he says. “We’ve talked a lot about that at rehearsals and the fact that [Cocktails at Pam’s] takes place right around supper time which was very much a style in the 60s. But the really odd thing about this particular cocktail party is that it takes place on a Monday night.”
Having to do with a guest of honour who is only available on Mondays, part of the fun will be in finding out the who and the why. So grab your own highball, put on your best cocktail attire and enjoy some Cocktails at Pam’s for the answers. Just don’t expect Don and Anton to actually show up.