The current White Rock Players Club production, Norm Foster’s Drinking Alone, is an excellent example of community theatre created by people who care about giving the local audience value for money.
Well-directed by Susanne de Pencier, it’s been provided solid production by Ryan Elliott and Lionel Rust, with a well-achieved box set (de Pencier, Colin Sotherby and others) and costuming (Heather Maximea).
But the most notable success is the connection of the actors to the underlying emotions of Foster’s comedy.
Without that quality, Drinking Alone – a misleading title, perhaps, given the play’s focus on an awkward family reunion – could emerge as little more than an elongated sitcom.
As with all of Foster’s scripts, the soft underbelly is equipped with a hard, but funny, patina shell of quips, one-liners and comebacks. And by and large this production makes the most of them.
If the opening-night performance (Feb. 8) missed the summit of hilarity, it was likely because the show was still finding its feet in front of a live audience.
Given the abilities of the highly capable cast – and a little momentum – Drinking Alone should have audiences rolling in the proverbial aisles for the balance of the run (at the Coast Capital Playhouse, until Feb. 25).
At its core, it’s a study of human relationships, and, in particular, our search for validation from the people around us.
For brother and sister Joe Todd and Carrie O’Neal (Terry Thomas and Sarah Green), the absence of approval, or even attention from their parents is a weight that has stunted their development.
More than that, it’s become a crutch – a handy excuse for failing to confront key issues in their lives. Drycleaner Joe’s lack of ambition, and newsreader Carrie’s growing alcoholism are easily blamed on the old luggage left them by Mom and Dad.
By the same token, father Ivan (Roger Currie) – whose belated return triggers a trunkful of angst – has yet to learn that a simple hug or pat on the back are more effective than his most scathing diatribe.
At least his current wife, Phyllis (Sheila Keating), is aware that she is loved and needed, no matter Ivan’s manner.
But there’s another needy character in the mix: Renee (Vanessa Klein). She’s a total stranger, a hairdresser and single mom who’s resorted to becoming a paid escort to help pay the bills.
When her first gig turns out to be an evening masquerading as Joe’s fiancé, she’s caught in the middle of a family’s unfinished business.
Klein is an attractive personality who wins, deservedly, her share of laughs through Renee’s compulsive elaboration of her and Joe’s imaginary relationship. But her characterization is at its most effective whenever she reins in a tendency to play too broadly.
Currie is perfectly cast as Ivan, equally funny in his more explosive pronouncements and his bewildered reactions to Renee’s prattle and Carrie’s revelations of absurd behind-the-scenes impropriety at her television station.
Thomas. too, has a very sure touch as Joe, with well-timed lines, and convincing emotion in the more serious scenes.
Green is commendable as Carrie, whose hard-nosed attitudes mask years of pain. It’s a smooth, assured performance, although one could wish for a few more hints of the character’s underlying warmth earlier on, even though it’s revealed in her genuinely touching later scenes.
Keating’s professionalism comes to the fore in the unspectacular role of Phyllis – her sympathetic and believable contribution cannot be underestimated in the success of this show.