Quartet, story of four retirement home performers, takes to the stage in Toronto
Last night, my friend Elaine and I went to see Quartet, the final show in East Side Players’ 2014/2015 season.
Quartet is set in a retirement home for singers and musicians. Every year they celebrate Verdi’s birthday in October with a gala, and all the residents perform. Cissy (Malorie Mandolidis), Wilfred (Daryn DeWalt) and Reg (Robert Ouelette) plan to perform as a trio.
Then Jean (Jane Hunter), Reg’s ex-wife and a prima-donna supreme, shows up.
Will she sing at the gala? Will she join them to form a quartet?
Elaine and I were talking after the show, and both of us were trying to find the words to describe what the play felt like. (And Elaine was trying to remember why she knew the story but was sure she hadn’t ever seen the play. It’s a 2012 movie). Elaine said it seemed a bit like some Noel Coward plays – like a drawing room comedy.
She nailed it. That is what it sort of felt like. It also felt a bit farcical -the first act, anyway.
In the first act, the characters seemed more like caricatures, something that the rest of the audience liked, given their laughter. Every now and again there was something that felt real, and I liked that more than the broad strokes.
I don’t know how much of the way an actor portrays a character is decided by the director and how much by the actor, but I found found the way that Mandolidis’ Sissy entered and left the room with a combined skip and run kind of annoying. It made me think of Edith Bunker. I don’t know a lot of old ladies who move like that.
All of the characters were one-dimensional. Ouelette’s Reg was rather pompous, pontificating his views on art and life, only breaking out of that long enough to complain that he didn’t get marmalade for breakfast. DeWalt’s Wilfred was a leering, dirty old man who never met a lewd comment he didn’t want to make.
The only character I liked in Act l was Hunter’s Jean. She was an over the top snob of the ‘daahling’ school. I have no idea why I found that appealing but I did.
They started turning into characters I could relate to in Act ll.
Cissy reaching out to try and catch the idea that she’s forgotten? I do that. I also liked the moment when she’s so stressed that she thinks she’s a young girl about to sail home to her parents in India was heartbreaking.
Cissy and Jean, giggling and girlish, talking about sex while they do their make-up and put on their costumes was brilliant.
Seeing Jean become vulnerable as she was honest with the others about why she couldn’t be in the quartet, and her relief after she told them, made her a much more appealing character.
Reg suddenly running to the door and flashing the aide who never gave him marmalade made him more appealing too, and was a reminder that, no matter how much it seems that someone has their shit together, getting old plays dirty sometimes.
Wilfred telling Reg about his late wife and how much he loved her was beautiful.
Finally, I loved the scene where they perform the quartet. The exaggerated gestures and overly articulated diction were truly operatic – in the best sense of the word.
I’ve been trying to decide if the dialogue was different in Act l than in Act ll, if that’s why they seemed so different. I don’t think it was, but I could be wrong.
Bill Corcoran’s set was charming. It certainly looked the way I imagine a retirement home for artists in England would look. I’ve noticed that the sets in community theatre are always more elaborate than in professional theatre. They have lots of volunteers to help with the building, painting, and lifting and lugging.
All in all, I ended up enjoying the play more than I thought I would, given how I was feeling after Act l. I would have enjoyed it more if Act l hadn’t been painted with such broad strokes.
- Quartet is playing at The Papermill Theatre (67 Pottery Road) until June 6th
- Performances are at 8 pm
- Tickets are $20.00 and $15.00 for students
- Tickets are available online, by phone at (416) 425-0917, and at the box office
Photo of Daryn DeWalk, Malorie Mandolidis, Robert Ouellette, and Jane Hunter in Quartet