Glen Street Theatre, April 11, 2013
Elizabeth Coleman really wrote two plays in one. The first is a silly suburban comedy and the second, indicated by the punning subtitle And I’ll Die If I Want To, a delicious piece of darker humour nodding to absurdism.
That she favoured the former over the latter is a crying shame, as the section where she gives herself up to the dark side is wickedly funny, and infinitely more entertaining than the petty family squabbles dominating this 20-year-old play. In fact you’d think she may have fiddled with it in the intervening years, so glaring is the discrepancy.
The set-up is pure absurdism: aging Ron Patterson (Henri Szeps) is told by a doctor he has three months to live, and takes this literally – down to the minute. On what he calculates to be his last day he arranges a farewell party with his wife, Dawn (an endearing Robyn Arthur), and three adult children.
This plummets into the most irritating sort of bickering, especially from the relentlessly brattish Karen (Freya Pragt). About 15 minutes into Act One I was rather hoping Karen might catch her dad’s terminal disease.
Her older siblings (Trent Baker and Sharon Davis) are only marginally less disagreeable, and the family exchange in the long, static opening scene at a dining table is pretty close to excruciating. I defy any director to make this scene work, and Denis Moore could only give it his best shot. Designer Shaun Gurton had no brain-wave to save the day, either.
Szeps’ performance more or less did that. His relaxed, rascally, I’m-not-really-acting style infused and warmed both his character and the play as a whole.
But everything changes in the final Act. Suddenly Dawn is trying to help him hang himself, and an undertaker (Matt Furlani) arrives to measure the corpse before it has stopped talking. What then unfolds is worth the price of admission, and almost justifies sitting through the horrible children arguing about nothing.
Until April 20.