Review by Danny Gaisin
It’s quite understandable for this particular scribe to choose HIS GIRL FRIDAY as my first play enjoyed at this year’s SHAW. I grew up with a relative of Ben Hecht’s; my first job was newspaper associated; and finally, role reversal…I’m the ‘Hildy’ character to wife Terry’s editing ‘Walter! *Photo courtesy of David Cooper*
The original title was ‘The Front Page’ and comedically represented the male dominated printed media of the late thirties. Women might write about society events but beyond that, it was secretarial or schlepping coffee. Hecht & MacArthur were liberals well ahead of the cusp. The play was a success, so were the resultant movies and John Guare’s adaptation picks the best of all three. Jim Mezon’s direction manages to capture the essence of pre-computerized re-writes, copyboys and deadlines that permeated pressrooms of the time. His pace, switches of focus and blocking are perfectly suited to the atmosphere he successfully recreates. Interestingly, the dialogues between the two protagonists and even the support cast seem almost choreographic in synchronization, pause and zingers!
Walter is portrayed in a rather harried and physical manner by Benedict Campbell who has previously received numerous critical mentions in ‘The Arts Review’. His timing is exquisite and even the shticks that may be somewhat telegraphed, still receive well-deserved guffaws. His foil is a dynamic Nicole Underhay who takes no back seat as Hildy. She’s determined, she’s liberated but most important – as she fervently declares…She’s a newspaperMAN! She closes Act I with a two-word scatology that even the muse has been known to utter in moments of duress. Tom Allison’s gangster and Ric Reid’s ‘Les Nessman-ish’ “Bensinger” give more than just comic relief; their portrayals ring true. The five police-beat reporters and Peter Millard as the jail’s gofer may be stereotypical but still contribute full measure and flesh out Mezon’s interpretation.The only support-role weakness is Wendy Thatcher whose articulation fails to project, specially during her litany naming the period’s women who write prose or poetry.
The set by Peter Hartwell definitely manages to evoke the ambiance of a newspaper office. I could almost visualize my own visits to the Montreal Star, circa 1959 usually for an editorial chew-out about syntax, phrasing and pedantic verbosity. The costumes are necessarily shabby and reflect the period. The stage props are a major contribution to the audience’s feeling of being the proverbial fly-on-a-wall observer. The play is somewhat longish, but with its fast pace, never drags.
We’ll be covering five of this season’s offerings, if the next four are equally entertaining; O.A.R’s TOP TEN will again be facing triage in order to select a SHAW recipient. HIS GIRL FRIDAY is at the Festival Theatre.