Ye olde reviewer last visited The Guild to watch a musical based on an Anne of Green Gables novel, so it neatly bookends the month to be back there a week later watching a show built around Anne’s fellow enduring PEI theatrical staple (not to mention her occasional artistic re-interpreter), the redoubtable Rob MacDonald.
A popular performer for decades, MacDonald appeared on the cover of the very first issue of The Buzz as the face of satirical sketch comedy classic Annekenstein. Many other projects followed featuring him on stage or screen, but his newest show’s a bit different. This time he’s largely behind the scenes as writer/director/producer while other actors perform his four new one-act comedies.
It’s a smart, funny, jam-packed night of theatre with a commendably playful unifying tone. MacDonald’s comedic presence pervades the proceedings, whether it’s the oft-odd program text (the Sam Wainwright bit made me laugh out loud), his comically awkward voice-over intro or his Hitchcockian cameos, most notably a loopily kuroko-esque walk-on bit where MacDonald plays matchmaker for a couple of stuffed toys.
“The Cat Fight” features amiable weirdo Gus (Rob’s son Cameron MacDonald, playing to his strengths) and ruthlessly hyper-competitive Agnes (Alicia Arsenault) as cat owners vying for the favour of cat show judge Judy (pronounced “Ju-DAY,” played by Tim Wartman). It’s probably the slightest and silliest of the four scripts but lots of fun, thanks in part to some skillfully deployed plush cats.
Wartman drifts in and out of audibility projection-wise and he doesn’t always effectively sell Judy’s more gleefully intense moments, but he’s a likeable, funny performer and makes a good foil for the showier antics of Arsneault and MacDonald, who have the larger, wackier parts here and play them quite well.
Rob reunites with his red-braided muse in “St. Anne, Saviour of Lost Souls”, featuring Charlottetown panhandlers Slippy (Lennie MacPherson) and Ray (Graham Putnam) trying to upgrade from bums to buskers by staging their own two-man Anne of Green Gables adaptation for freaked-out pedestrians.
The hilarious result is like a drunken compact mockery of Annekenstein’s classic “World’s Fastest Anne” sketch, which is part of what makes this the night’s best play. Other factors include the acting chops and comedic chemistry of the MacPherson-Putnam duo, a ridiculous yet oddly touching story, and the vivid, engaging specificity of both the setting and the characters’ voices in MacDonald’s thoughtful script.
Oddly experimental, “The Swedish Movie” stars Adam Brazier and Kelly Caseley as a couple whose life echoes the setting, feel and pacing of old Swedish films — slow, deliberate, enigmatic, banal, portentous, isolated. This play’s not for everybody (quiet awkwardness abounds), but Brazier and Caseley perform it well, and the script and the staging manage the triple feat of satirizing Swedish cinema and quasi-replicating Swedish cinema while telling a complete story — or at least implying one.
The night ends with “The Nappers” starring Kassinda Bulger, Jay Gallant, Rachel MacLeod and Rory Starkman as quirky, quarrelsome kidnappers trying (oh so ineptly) to get a rich ransom payoff for the boy (Charlie Ross) they’ve abducted. An able cast (especially Bulger and Starkman) with well-timed comic interplay makes the most of a nicely paced, slow-burn set-up which gradually builds to a payoff that’s enjoyably goofy, much like the rest of the evening’s well-crafted weirdness.