Stage Left: Weaksauce has lots of strong points

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Sporting horn-rimmed glasses and an aw-shucks grin, Sam Mullins radiates pure Canadian wholesomeness in Weaksauce, a Charlie-Brownish coming-of-age tale.

The young Toronto comedy writer has returned to the University of Victoria, his alma mater, to perform an evening of autobiographical monologues. This well-crafted and pleasant two-hour performance, titled Weaksauce and Other Stories, continues to Oct. 19 as part of Phoenix Theatre’s Spotlight on Alumni series

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In the opening 70-minute piece Weaksauce (Mullins relates three other tales after intermission), he recalls the summer he lost his virginity as a 16-year-old hockey camp counsellor.

This is preceded by an anecdote that sets the tone for what’s to come. Mullins reveals that, as a 13-year-old in Vernon, he once dashed down a lakeside dock in front of giggling girls with spectacularly painful and embarrassing results.

This is merely the appetizer; the main course is Mullins’s hockey camp story. It’s boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy regains girl. The teen siren is Amanda, who instantly bewitches him. However, Mullins’ plans for a summer of adolescent love are derailed by David, a fellow hockey counsellor. The British bounder swoops up Amanda with the caddish ease of Hugh Grant in Bridget Jones’s Diary.

Tall, curly-haired and goofily good-looking. Mullins presents himself as a Canuck everyman, perhaps reminiscent of a young Stuart McLean. Mullins has a self-deprecating humour, a keen eye for the telling detail and the ability to present himself as the regular guy you want to have a beer with (or allow your daughter to date).

The comic/touching coming-of-age story is well-trodden ground — we know it only too well from legions of teen movies and young adult books. Weaksauce would benefit from trimming (the details of one’s adolescence are always the most fascinating to the person who lived through them). And perhaps Mullins could dig deeper into his narrative.

What saves Weaksauce (the title references hockey slang) from being just another jejune trope is the sensitivity and intelligence of his writing.

It also benefits from his easy, likable acting style — Mullins relates to a theatre full of people as though confiding to a single listener.

Other anecdotes are offered as post-entrée bon bons. The strongest — and indeed, the evening’s best offering — is about the time his father met a famous athlete. Josh Hamilton, as sports fans know, is a baseball hero who overcame drug and alcohol problems to make a dramatic comeback.

By pure coincidence, Mullins’s father encountered Hamilton during the latter’s hard-boozing days and had a remarkable conversation with him. It’s an interesting enough story, yet what makes this piece truly remarkable is how Mullins concludes it. We’re left with a singularly potent parable on morality, religion and the devastating randomness of life. This is powerful, lean writing that transcends the mere compendium of facts presented.

Other anecdotes — about rat tribulations and a tinfoil dinosaur — are enjoyable, but less remarkable.

Everyone knows the famously lovely aria O mio babbino caro from Gianni Schicchi (you heard it in the Merchant Ivory film Room with a View).

What’s less known is that Gianni Schicchi comprises one-third of Il Trittico (The Triptych), an evening of one-act operas composed by Puccini.

Pacific Opera Victoria mounts a rare staging of this triple bill at the Royal Theatre from Oct. 17 to 27, marking its first return to a Canadian stage after a half-century absence.

Il Trittico’s other pieces are Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica. When Il Trittico debuted in 1918, reviews were mixed. Critics enjoyed Gianni Schicchi, but were lukewarm about the rest. However, of late staging the full evening has become more fashionable in international circles.

What makes the POV production a solid bet is the fact it’s overseen by Glynis Leyshon, an imaginative and experienced director.

Also worth noting is Blue Bridge Repertory theatre’s revival of The 39 Steps, running from Oct. 22 to Nov. 3. The comedy is a spoof of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller.

What bodes well for this particular production is its talented director (Jacob Richmond, co-creator of Ride the Cyclone) as well as a cast that includes Amanda Lisman and Christopher Mackie.

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