The CBRM’s pizza shops are some of my favourite cultural landmarks, in the sense that I couldn’t imagine what life would be like growing up in Glace Bay without the family’s weekly Friday afternoon pizza from one of the many pizza shops around town. You don’t read “high density of small, independent pizza shops” as a top feature in tourist brochures, but for many Cape Bretoners it’s probably more representative of our daily lives than the kilt-clad bagpiper standing guard outside gift shops.
A few days before I took in the Cape Breton Stage Company’s Friday showing of Pizza Passion, I was waiting on my order of a large vegetarian pizza in one of these little shops. There was a young man carefully working the pizza dough into a thin crust, while a young woman working cash and her middle-aged male supervisor were engaged in some unintentionally hilarious banter. It was a scene I quickly recalled when I realized that the casting and onstage dynamics of Pizza Passion closely mirrored this little slice of life.
Pizza Passion was written by Welsey Colford, who also acts in the role of new high school graduate and new pizza shop worker Brett LeMoine. I had previously seen Colford play some comedic bit parts in other productions, my favourite being the minstrel in tights in the Thursday showing of Live at the End of the World. It was my first opportunity to see him shine both in a lead acting role with his own writing, and I thoroughly enjoyed how he played the role showing the right amount of sensitivity and vulnerability.
Jana Gillis plays Brett’s coworker and romantic interest Danielle. The fun part of taking in every play was being able to appreciate the range of her skills, since she acts in every weekly play except one. The always excellent Ken Chisholm plays the role of Pop, the aging yet feisty shop owner.
Unlike the other CB Stage Company performances I previously reviewed, I caught Pizza Passion in its second last run. The benefit of seeing plays late in their run is that the actors tend to develop their ease with the venue and their chemistry with other actors. Without being able to compare this particular performance with previous weeks’ showings, I found the emotional interplay amongst all three actors touching.
I can easily imagine this play being performed on a larger stage without losing anything. Using St. Patrick’s church, however, presented a few interesting challenges for this play.
The first challenge related to the set and props. St. Patrick’s church has an aesthetically cool feel to it, in contrast to the warm setting appropriate for a pizza parlour. Without getting overly elaborate, the set and props that were used were only the things that would be conspicuous in their absence. A couple of diner tables with some cheery red-checked tablecloths were all that was really needed to create the proper impression of a pizza parlour.
Being a romantic comedy, the second challenge relating to an intimate space is–appropriately–physical intimacy. Even on larger stages, the audience can tell when a kiss is not a kiss because it usually looks contrived and awkward. Gillis’ and Colford’s make-out performance was believable and showed a very professional and mature approach to their art. Gillis explained afterward that acting in a scene with physical intimacy is one of those humps that actors need to work to get over.
In other dramatic media, namely film, the romantic comedy genre tends to get a bad rap for being light on substance. There is, of course, nothing wrong with lighthearted feel-good entertainment, but sometimes I feel like the genre isn’t always appreciated by audiences and artists for the creative possibilities it presents for tackling serious issues. Pizza Passion deals with things that are very relevant to the anxieties and decisions facing younger people on the threshold of adulthood. Dealing with death and losing loved ones, deciding what career path to pursue, and whether to stay home or go elsewhere do have a sort of universal quality, but I love that the details are grounded locally.
My personal beef with some romantic comedies is the characters’ hyper-conformity to gender expectations. It’s no fun to watch the interactions of two walking stereotypes. In real life, there are a whole variety of ways in which people express gender identities. Colford’s writing provides a good example of characters who generally conform to typical gender attributes, but who don’t come off as clichéd. As one example, Gillis’ character’s more intense emotional reaction in a particularly dramatic moment has more to do with her close relationship to the shop owner than it does with being female.
It’s hard to pick favourites between the Stage Company’s four summer plays. Since they each offer a different experience, they all come highly recommended. If you haven’t caught any of the Cape Breton Stage Company’s plays this summer, you can still catch all three in their last showings of the summer. All plays have a stage time of 8:00pm at St Patrick’s museum, located on the Esplanade in Sydney. Admission price is $10. Pizza Passion‘s night is Friday, Live at the End of the World will be shown Thursday, and Saturday features two plays for the price of one with Echoes from Dawn Fraser and Pipe Dreams.