FireWorks Festival: Fairy tale favourites collide with a contemporary feminist twist in the hilariously charming, bawdy If the Shoe Fits

 

Erik Mrakovcic & Marina Gomes. Set design by Teodoro Dragonieri. Costume design by Margaret Spence. Lighting design by Liam Stewart. Photo by Bruce Peters.

 

Alumnae Theatre launches the final week of its FireWorks Festival with Genevieve Adam’s If the Shoe Fits, directed by Heather Keith—opening last night in Alumnae’s Studio Theatre. Fairy tale favourites collide, with a contemporary feminist twist, in this hilariously charming, bawdy deconstructed Cinderella story—and an inside look at what really happens after the “happily ever after”.

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Chris Coculuzzi & Erik Mrakovcic. Set design by Teodoro Dragonieri. Costume design by Margaret Spence. Lighting design by Liam Stewart. Photo by Bruce Peters.

Hosted by our glittering Narrator (Eugenia De Jong, with a twinkle in her eye and an arch in her brow) as she interacts with both audience and characters, we’re introduced to the intrepid Sir Eglantine (Chris Coculuzzi), who’s been tasked by the Prince to find the young maiden who fits the pretty size 7 glass shoe that was left behind at the ball. He’s been at it for over two years with no success, and is at his wit’s end—until he learns of a simple pig farmer Ned (Erik Mrakovcic) who has a sister that he believes may be the one. Having raised his sister and run the family farm since they were orphaned as children, Ned is incredulous at first—especially as his sister is a rough and tumble kind of gal—but the possibility of a life of wealth and comfort for Nora (Marina Gomes), and a plumb position as the Royal Hog Supplier, convinces him to let Sir Eglantine try. And the shoe fits!

Meanwhile, at court, Felicite (Sophie McIntosh), Amandine (Jennifer Fahy) and Virginie (Chantale Groulx) share laughs and woes over a good sisterly bitch session (think Desperate Housewives of the French Court); all have either neglectful or beastly husbands, and all are engaged in affairs to varying degrees—in some cases, for economic survival.

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Jennifer Fahy, Sophie McIntosh & Chantale Groulx. Set design by Teodoro Dragonieri. Costume design by Margaret Spence. Lighting design by Liam Stewart. Photo by Bruce Peters.

Upon his arrival at court with Ned and Nora, Sir Eglantine finds himself in hot water with Virginie after sending no word while he was away for over two years. Amandine has her eye on some fresh meat: Ned, who has also recently been fitted with some fancy court clothes (big shouts to costume designer Margaret “The Costumator” Spence for the stunning—and surprising—period wardrobe). Felicite is charged with training Nora to be a lady, with hilarious results as Nora navigates court fashion, manners and deportment. Enter a young court violinist (Mark McKelvie), who is not all he seems, who has been watching Nora with great interest. Plots, plans and unexpected alliances ensue; and even the Narrator seems at a loss about what to do. Will tattered marriages be mended—and will the Prince have his mystery sweetheart for his wife?

Excellent work from the ensemble in this fast-paced, sharply funny fairy tale for modern times that incorporates issues of gender, class, marriage and consent in candid, provocative ways. Coculuzzi rounds out Sir Eglantine’s loyal, fastidious sense of duty with a soft, romantic heart; this plays nicely against Groulx’s sharp-tongued, cynical and pragmatic Virginie, a desperate, neglected wife and mother who longs for love and security. Mrakovcic gives an amiable, but opportunistic, turn as the homespun pig farmer Ned, who has quite the eye-opening when he becomes Amandine’s boy toy; putting the shoe on the other foot, so to speak. Fahy is deliciously arch and saucy as Amandine; as experienced in the ways of love as she is in revenge, Amandine is tougher than her powdered, ribboned exterior would suggest. Gomes is extremely likeable and feisty as the rough, independent Nora; with a Puck-like agility and sense of irreverent fun, Nora plays along with her courtly transformation—but finds she’s got a big decision to make. McIntosh infuses Felicite’s poignant sweetness with a determined sense of resolve and virtue, even when she’s in doubt of what to do. And McKelvie gives the ridiculously handsome and adorably awkward Prince a boyish naiveté; entitled and sheltered, the Prince has no idea about the world outside the castle, especially when it comes to meeting women.

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Mark McKelvie. Set design by Teodoro Dragonieri. Costume design by Margaret Spence. Lighting design by Liam Stewart. Photo by Bruce Peters.

The knights and princes who save the damsels, or use the damsels save them from themselves, or find the mysterious girl who fits the shoe she at the ball, all feel entitled to own these women through marriage—all the while calling it “true love”. But who says the women were in distress, or wanted to save a cursed man from himself, or marry a prince?

The shoe may fit, but she doesn’t have to wear it.

If the Shoe Fits continues in the Alumnae Studio Theatre until November 24; get tickets online, by calling 416-364-4170 (ext. 1) or in-person at the box office one hour before curtain time (cash only). There will be a post-show talkback with the director, playwright and cast following the Saturday, November 23 matinée performance.

 

Hilariously sexy good times – The Underpants

UnderpantsposterMen are silly. Then again, so are women. And we all become equally silly when we let our desires run away with us. And it’s especially fun when otherwise straight-laced, upstanding citizens toss their hang-ups aside as they get carried away.

The Underpants, Steve Martin’s adaptation of Carl Sternheim’s Die Hose – directed for Alumnae Theatre by Ginette Mohr, assisted by Caitlin English – reveals how the accidental shedding of a lady’s underpants in public throws a group of upright middle-class folks for a loop, with decidedly hilarious and sexy results.

It all starts out with sound designer and live piano accompanist Aaron Corbett entering, dressed in black pants and white shirt. He stops down centre and bows with a click of his barefoot heels, bringing the audience to attention. We are in 1910 Germany, in the home of Theo and Louise Maske.

The Maskes’ ordinary middle-class life is thrown into turmoil when, while watching a royal procession, Louise’s (Carolyn Hall) underpants fall down – a moment that gets noticed despite her quick and discreet retrieval. News of the event spreads, resulting in instant – and titillating – celebrity status for Louise. All much to the chagrin of her extremely conservative civil servant husband (Andrew Anthony). We also learn that Louise wants a baby, but Theo hasn’t touched her since their wedding night nearly a year ago. Boorish and uber-masculine, Theo is more of an arrogant, bigoted bully than the sweet-talking romantic Louise longs for.

Enter Versati (Scott Farley), a handsome young poet with a flair for the dramatic, who arrives at the house to inquire about a room for rent. Things get complicated when Louise accepts Versati’s application, only to learn that Theo has entered into an agreement with the hypochondriac barber Cohen (Michael Gordin Shore). Both prospective tenants are accepted – to share the room – and it turns out that both witnessed the “event” at the parade. And both are madly in love with Louise as a result.

Adding to the fun is the Maskes’ nosey upstairs neighbour Gertrude (Chantale Groulx), a woman of a certain age who longs to live vicariously through a young woman’s romantic life and who appoints herself Louise’s naughty fairy godmother in a plot to launch Louise into an affair with Versati. Then add to the mix a third tenant prospect, the elderly and stern Klinglehoff (Jacqueline Costa, doing triple duty – she’s also the set and lighting designer), and a surprise visit by the King (Farley) – and we have even more laugh-out-loud good times.

And, since this is a farce, plots and plans go awry – all in the most hysterical way, with loads of innuendo, physical comedy and a bit of potty humour. This fast-moving comedy does an excellent job of pointing and laughing at the foibles and hang-ups of the bourgeois majority – from their uptight and chauvinistic views on sex, tight-fisted ways with money and mistrust of minorities, to how easily people’s longings and desires can be played upon by the right person under the right circumstances. In the end, every character learns something about herself/himself, especially Louise, who grows into a self-possessed woman.

The Underpants features an excellent and highly entertaining cast. Hall is lovely as the adorable Louise, a loyal but neglected housewife with a progressive mind and searing urges, longing to be loved and romanced. Anthony does a nice job with man’s man Theo, who under all the machismo is a man who wants to live a proper, quiet life and provide for his wife so they can eventually afford a baby. Groulx is deliciously sly and lascivious as Gertrude, an older woman who is forced to acknowledge her own desires as she finds herself considering a younger man. Farley is part poet, part Casanova and part acrobat as Versati, a man who also longs for romance, and does a delightfully goofy turn as the King. Shore’s Cohen reveals a sweet, protective and lonely mensch beneath the hypochondriac; you just want to buy him a coffee and give him a hug. And Costa is a treat as Klinglehoff – the most uptight of the lot and quick to judge, but easily swayed – a young female actor masterfully carrying off the physical and mental postures of an extremely proper and severe old man. (Scroll down to the Alumnae blog post I reposted recently to see how Costa came to play Klinglehoff.)

With shouts to producer Jennifer McKinley, SM Karen Elizabeth McMichael, costume designer Sarah Joy Bennet and props mistress Bec Brownstone. And thanks to Alumnae Theatre for a lovely opening night reception, which included a lovely spread by member Sandy Schneider.

The Underpants runs on the Alumnae Theatre mainstage until October 5, with a talkback Q&A with the cast and creative team after the September 29 matinée.

So. What are you wearing? 😉