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Theatre Review: Belfry's superb cast outshines the script

Michael Shamata, the Belfry Theatre's artistic director, likes the idea of remounting worthwhile Canadian plays. You know, so they don't vanish in the wilderness of the Great White North. This is a terrific notion.

Michael Shamata, the Belfry Theatre's artistic director, likes the idea of remounting worthwhile Canadian plays. You know, so they don't vanish in the wilderness of the Great White North.

This is a terrific notion. However, The Ends of the Earth -- an early Morris Panych farce that inexplicably won a Governor General's Award -- seems a weak contender for revival.

The Belfry's production far eclipses the script. This show is briskly directed by Amiel Gladstone and smartly acted by a superior cast. And it boasts a fine set by Ken MacDonald -- a curious configuration of giant cogs and letters that recalls Dada art. Unfortunately, especially given the tremendous effort of staging it, The Ends of the Earth is far from Panych's best work. It's convoluted, self-indulgent and -- the worst crime in comedy-land -- not particularly funny.

It's a shame, as the premise has promise. Frank (Lucas Meyers) is a nerdy twerp who writes a gardening column for a free newspaper. He believes a stranger, Walker (James Long), is keeping him under surveillance for mysterious reasons.

Meanwhile, Walker believes he's being pursued by Frank, leading to a wild and surreal chase that takes these two goofballs ... well, to the ends of the Earth.

As this alleged comedy progresses, things get kookier and kookier. Finally, Frank and Walker engage in their long (and I mean long) awaited standoff in a creepy hotel populated by nutty crones who are variously deaf, blind and homicidal. The second act tips its hat to such camp flicks as Psycho and, to a lesser extent, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Panych designed this dog's breakfast to be a pull-out-the-stops romp. There are, for instance, oodles of characters -- more than 15. No doubt the backstage of the Belfry is a study in freneticism, with actors expertly shoe-horned in and out of costumes within seconds. Versatile actor Paul Fauteux does a particularly fine job juggling eight comic roles. Thursday's performance also showcased good work from the highly capable Vanessa Holmes and Camille Stubel.

The dialogue relies less on the sharp epigrams Panych would employ in later plays and more on broad exchanges. Some would fit well on the old Wayne and Shuster Hour. Typically, one character says something like: "The wife and I have only a few years left ... so I'd like to get away from her as much as I can." Pa-tum-pum.

What's intended is wackiness and hilarity of epic proportions. Yet Panych's play is so aimless and mystifyingly silly -- and the humour so corny and nonsensical -- it's hard to stick with it.

Watching it is like those unfortunate occasions when one's compelled to witness the show-off antics of a horribly precocious child with no hope of immediate escape.

The Ends of the Earth isn't complete fluff. This 1992 play reflects Panych's lifetime interest in existentialism and writers such as Samuel Beckett and Jean-Paul Sartre. He suggests each of us imagines the world revolves around us, when in fact the majority of folk are concerned mostly about themselves.

Human isolation is a recurring theme in his work. We see it explored, more successfully and cohesively, with such subsequent plays as Vigil and Girl in a Goldfish Bowl.

achamberlain@tc.canwest.com

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