Theatre Burlington’s production of Nurse Jane Goes to Hawaii is a crowd pleaser. A farce with six doors, dual identities and slippery food, it aims for non–stop silliness.
Silly is simple, one thinks. Yet like a dancer en pointe, a farce requires expert control not to wobble.
Award winning director Tom Mackan finds this balance with the loopiest of the play’s characters, Vivien, a virgin romance writer who hopes to score a man. She is played endearingly by Heather Hunter, whose high pitched voice and deadpan insouciance make her a comic natural. Guided beautifully through the play by Mackan, she creates wacky comedy, wandering around in baby dolls, dictating the chapters of her romance novel into a recorder, quite oblivious to the chaos of a tryst gone wrong.
Vivien is hoping to have an affair with Edgar. She’s moved into his home for the weekend on the premise that his wife, Doris, a syndicated advice columnist who uses the name Cloris, is away (which, to their surprise, she is not)
Played by Heather Baer, an actor whose presence fills a stage, Doris is funniest when she talks to herself, addressing her alter–ego. (Shall we have a drink, Cloris? Good idea, Doris.) More opportunities for this dimension are missed, making Doris a traffic cop of sorts as former lovers and lost children show up at her door and get hurried off stage.
Popping in and out of doors is essential in farce, and timing is key as all of us know. Sharp focus, quick lines and near athletic speed keep a farce at the top of its game. This production occasionally moves in slow motion, with a few missed cues and lost lines.
One character shows up in disguise. Putting panty hose on a man’s head doesn’t get a laugh these days. But then what would? A mask of Rob Ford? Actor Peter Churey is stuck with the panty hose. Nurse Jane, according to the director’s notes, is meant to be a send–up of farces: a farce about a farce. As Bill, Doris’ former lover, Churey is stripped of his masculine verve by a bullying wife and a disingenuous relationship with his daughter. He becomes a bit of a sad clown, the panty hose legs swinging limply around his head. His pathetic lack of courage actually borders on pathos. Was this the playwright Allan Stratton’s intention? Is a “send up of farce” a very brief conversation about real relationship dysfunction?
Other characters in the play are troupers: Andrew Finnegan plays Edgar as a ‘little’ man with scurrying legs and a nerdy passion for wind currents. Kyla McCall is a sledge hammer as Betty, the bullying wife and editor. Michael Pearson has the most impossible role as Peter, the long ago orphaned son. Nevertheless, he nicely captures the earnest disdain of one who’s enamoured with psychotherapy. Melissa Verway plays Peggy Scant annoyingly, which is appropriate for a bratty, young journalist.
The set, designed by Dani Podetz, is perfect and never shivers. And the production might wobble, but only occasionally. We still have lots of laughs. V
NURSE JANE GOES TO HAWAII
April 17–19, 24–26
Presented by Theatre Burlington
@ Drama Centre,
2311 New St., Burlington.