As I was on my way to the play last night through downtown Sydney, two young men, hanging out of the second floor window of an apartment above a store, tried to draw me into a disagreement they were having with their girlfriends. The young ladies in question passed me on the sidewalk with only mildly exasperated expressions.
That kind of street theatre does not impress me.
The production of A Television Watching Artist, presently being staged by the Cape Breton Stage Company in the window of The Finishing Touch Centre on Sydney’s Charlotte Street, does impress me a great deal.
The play opened Thursday, June 2, and has two more shows on Friday, June 3, and Saturday, June 4, at 7pm both nights.
Cleverly and seamlessly staged with strong actors giving engaging performances of a satirically funny, if sometime scattershot script, this production deserves appreciative audiences, and perhaps even a longer run.
The script by Prince Edward Island playwright, J. J. Steinfeld, tells the tale of Patrick (Daniel Dobson), a keener forced to be a slacker by unemployment, itching to become a useful member of society once more and to stop feeling like a drain on the resources, financial and emotional, of his girlfriend, Jenny (Jenna Currie).
Patrick, on an impulse of inspiration, convinces a department store manager (Greg Woodford) to let him park himself in the store’s display window in an attempt to set the world’s record of non-stop television watching. The store gets a gimmick to sell more TVs and Patrick gets the promise of a new TV (to replace the antique he was reportedly conceived in front of), a little money to pump up his self-esteem, and a way to raise money for some local charities.
Instead, Patrick collects the unwanted attentions of a fan/stalker (Kyle Capstick) and a credulous radio reporter (Erin Gillis), and a serious addiction to his new lifestyle that threatens his relationship with Jenny. Oh, yes, the longer he basks in the irradiated glow of his flatscreen, the more Patrick seems to be slipping into some Kafkaesque delirium.
Dobson and Currie make a charming, believable couple who always engaged the audience through some of the more predictable twists and turns of their deteriorating relationship. Dobson, as the play progresses, manages to keep the audience’s empathy as his character becomes more snarky, alienated, and harder to like. The urge to get up and unplug him became sometimes irresistible. Currie was decent, smart and assertive in her character that could easily have become shrill and single-note.
Gillis, as the reporter, and Woodford, as the store manager, did excellent comic work with less developed characters (the clue that they are comedic archetypes is the playwright did not bother giving them names). When Patrick’s self-indulgence got a bit sloggy, they brought a welcome energy to their scenes.
Kyle Capstick deserves a merit award for having to spend long stretches of the play standing on Charlotte Street on the other side of a plate glass window reacting to what was happening inside. When he was finally allowed indoors, Capstick gave an eerie, comic performance of obsession and forsaken identity that reminded me of some of the darker work of film actor Crispin Glover.
Director Scott Sharplin deserves full marks for putting his play in a non-theatre situation, adding some difficult technical elements, daring to include the quizzical looks of passerby into the show, and having it all succeed brilliantly.
Patrick and Jenna’s coupledom is seen in prerecorded segments on a television monitor (which adds a twist to what the audience most invests in: the happy couple onscreen or the troubled couple live in front of them); sometimes with the characters seen, on video, passing in front of the store window, timed to when they are doing so during the actual show. Scenes happening on the street are heard through a P.A. system inside. In less confident hands, all of this technical enhancement might have distanced the audience from the show: instead it sucked us all in.
And Sharplin guided his entire cast to give fully realized, engaging performances that completely involved the audience.
A special thank you must go to Marjorie Fougere, owner of The Finishing Touch Centre, for partnering with Cape Stage on this unique project. As a note in the program says, “Help support local businesses so they can support the arts!”