Review: Opening Night – an agreeably fun piece of theatre

Playwright Norm Foster is cleaning up in Vancouver right now.  Not only is he starring in his The Love List at the Playhouse, another of his works, Opening Night, is being produced by Metro Theatre.  And despite some technical and staging issues, the amateur Metro production in South Vancouver was at times just as entertaining as the professionals in downtown Vancouver.

Opening NightRuth and Jack Tisdale (Helen Volkow and Pat McDermott pictured right) are not your typical theatregoers and find themselves in the VIP lounge of the Charles Killian Theatre Noir Repertory House on opening night of Whisper in the Wind.  Ruth desperately wants to expand her cultural horizons but Jack is just as content to sit at home watching the World Series.  As luck (wink wink) would have it they also happen to be celebrating their silver wedding anniversary.

While waiting for the show to begin the Tisdales meet out-of-work actor Michael Craig (Patrick Maloughney) who Jack happens to recognize from a local television commercial.  Also among the VIP guests are the director of the play they are about to see, Richard Hyde-Finch (Tim Vant) and his girlfriend Cilla Fraser (Caitlin Clugston).  Of course the evening would not be complete without the aspiring actor/waiter Tom (Martin Hallat) who you know will end up playing a larger role here than just simply serving champagne and cheese puffs.  Rounding out the cast are the two actors in the fictional play-within-a-play, Clayton Fry (David Wallace) and Libby Husniak (Kari-Ann Wood).

Volkow and McDermott are absolutely adorable, and very funny, as the fish-out-of-water Tisdales, complete with just the right amount of naiveté.  Vant, as the self-important director with serious commitment issues, milks some of the best lines of the evening for all they are worth, while Clugston did tend towards whiny at times.

One of the more difficult roles here is the cliché dumb blonde of Libby (despite what one might think playing dumb can be a real challenge). While Kari-Ann Wood plays it with gusto, she did struggle with being heard behind what sounded at times like a valley girl accent.

The staging of the play-within-the-play of Opening Night is perhaps the biggest challenge here and unfortunately was also one of the show’s biggest problems.  This is primarily the reason I cannot give this production full marks.

With the actors in their seats on each side of the stage during the Whisper in the Wind scenes, a great deal of the action and dialogue was lost.  Director Mark Carter might want to re-think the positioning of the theatre seats on stage so that they are more of an angle facing the audience so we don’t miss any of Foster’s amusing dialogue and some of the business he gives his actors. This might be less of a problem for those in the middle of the house but since everyone pays the same it shouldn’t matter where you are seated.

Once again lighting proved problematic for the Metro.  This was a general issue but was most evident during the Whisper in the Wind scenes where the actors lost their light on a number of occasions.  There is also the problem of the lights used to illuminate the audience where on both occasions I found myself almost blinded and actually shaded my eyes to make out what was happening.

Much like Foster’s other show on stage downtown, Opening Night is pretty lightweight and seems to be cut from the same sitcom-like cloth.  But where substance gives way to a one-liners and an ending that wraps up all too nicely, Opening Night is an agreeably fun piece of theatre.

Can’t afford the high-prices of the Playhouse?  Consider this Metro production instead.  Or if you can afford both, go see these two funny comedies written by a Canadian.

And for the record Norm, I do consider myself a more honourable life form than what you might have rinsed away on your bathroom tiles.

3 of 5 StarsOpening Night
Metro Theatre
3 April – 1 May 2010

Norm Foster’s Opening Night is set in the fictitious Charles Killian Theatre on the opening night of “Whisper on the Wind”, an earnest Canadian play about a farm family. Tickets $15-$18 available by calling the Metro box office at 604.266-7191.

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