By Winston Soon
In its 40 years the Tarragon theatre has created a type of Canadian theatre royalty, or probably the closest we will ever come to it. Those of us who studied theatre across the country studied names like Anne Marie Macdonald, Martha Ross and Leah Cherniak. So I was delighted to join a full audience on Saturday night along with my friend Shai to watch More Fine Girls from the women who helped create the stuff of which Canadian theatre dreams are made.
More Fine Girls is a sequel to a show that I have never seen called The Attic, the Pearls & 3 Fine Girls. I was 15 when it was last staged at the Tarragon, Shai was 4. I guess they really wanted to do 20 years later in real time.
Although she is on the posters and her bio is listed in the program, Leah Cherniak is not actually in this show. Instead, Severn Thompson is playing the part of Jelly, the youngest of the three sisters.
What’s weird is that this is not acknowledged anywhere for patrons and only in one of the press materials in my package is her performance acknowledged, but without stating that a switch happened. I realized it was her because I saw her in another show at Tarragon a few years back but her bio was no where to be found. Pity, because she is truly amazing and deserves as much recognition as writers and fellow performers Macdonald and Ross.
Shai felt that it took her a while to get into the show, mainly because it felt forced, pushed. I think I know what she means: the physical and timing choices that begin the show are huge, arguably over the top. That artificial style is a hard one to leap into quickly. This show is high energy and hugely physical.
I try to know as little as I can about any show I walk into, so that I can remain fully open to the experience. I read Theatre Columbus’s mandate after the performance, so in retrospect it all makes perfect sense: “to combine a physical theatre tradition with social and personal issues relevant to our time in place.” (www.theatrecolumbus.ca)
All three actresses portray sisters both relatable and neurotic, each in her own way. One of the things Shai loved was that it was really hard to figure out who the “real crazy” was. Indeed.
Martha Ross is Jojo, a nitpicky hoarding professor that madly digs through her purse and pockets to find her ringing phone, only to not answer it when she realizes it is work calling. Been there!
Anne Marie Macdonald’s Jayne is a worried lesbian who obsesses over her hobby farm and partner and is constantly trying to find her inner Zen. She is constantly mentioning a friend who prescribes slippery elm for everything, which I find hilarious because that was considered the abortion herb back in the day.
Jelly, the youngest, is an artist looking into her medical past (hence the 3 sisters meeting) and mainly wants to be left alone. She is communicating with the cosmos via a camera. This makes the two elder sisters completely and obsessively worried., which is why they make up lies to go and stay with her.
Even if you don’t buy clown-like physicality, the writing is the true star of this piece. With writers like this, it really is no wonder. It is a comedy and it is loaded with zingers that smack against each sister in banter that is like a dysfunctional family hyperbole.
Anne Marie Macdonald has some of the best lines ever. When the sisters start firing impossible questions at Jelly about her art, Jayne exclaims that having an artist as a sister is like “having a unicorn in the family.” As a non-habitual coffee drinker, I loved when bedraggled Jayne screams at Jelly: “where is that coffee machine I bought for you when I sleep over?” I’ve had this screamed at me a few times myself by various family members.
And if you do like big physical offers, there is a great teaching scene where Jojo tries to teach Jayne how to look relaxed in a lie. It is the stuff only the greatest sitcoms can pull off.
Both Shai and myself found the facts of the end kind of murky; weirdly wrapped up without making a ton of sense. That could also be due to the man sitting behind us who liked to talk back to the poor actors onstage. When Jojo took her bathrobe off to reveal her mothers nightgown, he actually let out a catcall. Not since I saw The Colour Purple on Broadway with a busload of women from Atlanta have I heard more talking back to a stage.
The good news is, when you are Canadian theatre royalty, nothing can shake you. A fine fine show from three fine women. With the careers they have had, I would argue there is nothing “Girl”ish about them.
–More Fine Girls plays in the Tarragon Theatre’s mainspace until April 3rd.
– Tickets are $22.00 to $37.00
– Friday Night Rush Tickets: A minimum of 20% of all tickets are available for $10 starting at 6pm. There is a maximum of two tickets per person and payment is cash only.
– 416.531.1827 during regular Box Office hours
*Be sure to check out a reading of The Attic, the Pearls, & 3 Fine Girls at the Tarragon on March 26th at 2:30 pm, tickets are $25.00.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann