Review by Danny Gaisin
Frances Burney’s 1779 comedy-drama (or dramedy?) seems to have been buried until re-discovery in 1945. The title refers to those who aspire to, or consider themselves to be – intellectually clever. However, dull; boring, and pedestrian are more apt descriptive similes. The play is verbose and Theatre Erindale’s take is all Patrick Young. He adapted the play, impeccably directs it; artistically designed the set and edited the music. Talk about multi-tasking…‘Benny Hill’ lives again! Photo courtesy of James Smagata
The plot; which develops slowly seems to concentrate more on pigeon-holing or stereotyping the characters and deals with eighteenth century focus on status level and financial equality as being critical to every relationship. When a bankruptcy affects a bride-to-be, will all bets be off? I dare not even hint at the denouement for fear of being a ‘spoiler’. The play is longish, and dialogue demands so challenging that line muffs are noticeable, a rarity at UTM. The costuming by Barbara Rowe (+Sheridan’s David Juby & company); make-up & hair by Samantha Miller-Vidal; and an elaborate set created by an eight-person team give this Canadian premiere an impressive hallmark standard.
Like Shakespeare before her, Burney’s cast-names reflect and describe characterizations and portrayal relevance (think ‘Flute’; Perdita; “Benvolio & Malvolio” and the anagramic ‘Caliban’); Mrs. Wheedle; Mrs. Sapient; Censor; Mrs. Voluble; Codger; Lady Smatter & Dabler are all nominally evocative. The engaged couple are played by Samuel Turner & Mercedes Morris. Both radiate sincerity and an obvious affinity for each other. Turner has a best friend in ChristianTribuzio’s Censor whose mandate is to be the ‘sober second thought’ and conscience of his BFF. His logic, insight and ‘big picture’ grasp of reality reflects some of yours truly’s smarter buddies. A major comedy portrayal is Jovan Kocic’s Jack who is constantly in motion. Like Alice’s ‘White Rabbit’ or the Energizer® Bunny, he too ‘can’t wait; can’t wait…got a very important date’ and Kocic certainly touches home with most of today’s folks who also must scurry just to stay even with temporal demands. (Again identification by yours truly; deadlines; curtain times; social exigencies etc.)
There are some convincing support roles that are noticeable. Kaitlyn Alexander’s Mrs. Voluble reminds me of ME, (too loquacious). We loved Bailey Green’s Lady Smatter with her malapropistic references. Audiences will certainly identify Mark Snetzko’s “Codger” with his penchant for pondering thought-processes and deliberate responses; omitting subtlety and bordering on rudeness (been there too!). The definitive witling is ‘Dabler’, an arrogant and conceited poet who is the most irritating character. This scribe kept concentrating on Tomas Ketchum’s continually demonstrating three of ballet’s basic positions… perhaps for all of us Odile/Odette wannabes’. His posturing too; seems a little overdone.
Forgive me, but can’t close without referring to that infamous joke about delivering a “Smatter”. In response to the query as to what is a ‘smatter’; “Nothing – what’s smatter you?”!
‘THE WITLINGS” may refer to pseudo acumen and cleverness but the Erindale version gets full marks for “witty” intelligence and certainly clever in adaptation and execution. It’s on stage until March 2nd. Call 905-569-4369. Brief hint; if you bring your bottled water into the theatre; don’t squeeze the plastic bottle – the noise is loud, shrill & definitely annoying to everyone around.