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Theatre review: Cocktails at Pam’s delightful cast drinks from a martini without the booze

Cocktails at Pam’s raises the curtain on what many of us will experience this holiday season: a drinks party with a motley crew of eccentric guests and a host eager to please.

Members of the cast of the Staircase XI production of Stewart Lemoine's Cocktails at Pam's.

Members of the cast of the Staircase XI production of Stewart Lemoine’s Cocktails at Pam’s.

In 1960s suburbia, Pam tries to be the perfect hostess, ensuring the maid always answers the door, getting floral arrangements just right and, of course, checking the entertainment and conversation is suitably tasteful. Too bad she invited guests who wreak havoc on her nerves.

Staircase Equity Collective’s British Columbia premiere of this Stewart Lemoine play is framed with Lauchlin Johnston and Christina Dao’s tastefully designed set, a throwback to upper-middle-class 60s culture. It’s the perfect backdrop to former underlying social etiquettes – stated and implied – that lead to the misadventures of characters on stage.

There’s the divorcee who can’t stand the ubiquity of green pepper (Stefania Indelicato); the dramatic, emotional couple in matching black pants and berets (Anousha Alamian and Shauna Johannesen); the good-natured brother who’s just terrible at drawing (Brent Hirose); and the sweet actress trying to get along with everyone (Yoshie Bancroft). Keeping the party going is Pam’s long suffering husband, Julius, played by Sebastien Archibald, whose eye-twinkling, deft performance steals the show.  It’s a pleasure to see this cast interact with Director Stephen Heatley ably helping them walk that the fine line between energy and ham, one that is easily overstepped in a character-based comedy such as this.

Unfortunately neither director nor actors have much to work with. Cocktails at Pam’s feels like a deeply flawed script. Of the eleven characters interacting over 70 minutes, almost all are one-dimensional. With no problems to solve, and no narrative arc, the play quickly turns into a long succession of small skits that, while charmingly portrayed, lead nowhere. Even the play’s final “twist” feels unimportant. We’re left wondering what the point of it all was.  This is surprising from Lemoine, a favourite in Canadian theatre whose other works have much more heart and depth.

There were belly laughs from the audience on opening night, and warmth in the room throughout the show, but the thinness of the script feels like a martini without the booze. Luckily the delightful cast, beautiful set, and strong direction make this a fun show to start the festive season.

Cocktail’s at Pams

By Stewart Lemoine.  Directed by Stephen Heatley. A Staircase Equity Collective production.  On stage at Studio 1398 on Granville Island through November 30, 2013.  Visit http://cocktailsatpams.bpt.me for tickets and information.

Zoe GramScottish-born Zoe Grams is Principal at ZG Communications and has spent much of her life in theatres and bookstores.

Her work has appeared in publications on both sides of the Atlantic, including The Tyee, Back of the Book, GUM and Skinny Mag. Zoe’s lifelong passions include exploring new cities and the arts.

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