One doozy of a situation

Maybe it’s the snake wrestling scene. But something about Eric Chappell’s comedy Heatstroke got Deborah O’Brien interested in directing for the first time in six years — and in bringing her husband, Dennis O’Brien, on-board as co-director.

Jim Claggett as Sam

Jim Claggett as Sam

Maybe it’s the snake wrestling scene.

But something about Eric Chappell’s comedy Heatstroke got Deborah O’Brien interested in directing for the first time in six years — and in bringing her husband, Dennis O’Brien, on-board as co-director.

At first glimpse, Heatstroke appears to have all the ingredients for a broad farce — several mix ups and a wink-wink, nudge-nudge affair between a married character and his mistress.

But just as the play seems headed into farce territory, it veers away to remain a comedy — and that’s what Deborah O’Brien likes about it. “It’s more intelligent humour — it’s not a bedroom farce. It’s about a situation that could be believable,” said Deborah, who directed her last Central Alberta Theatre play in 2004 and was game to direct another.

Dennis calls Heatstroke, CAT’s last production of the season that opens Thursday, March 26, at the Black Knight Inn, “a situational comedy.”

But it’s one doozy of a situation.

The characters Sam and Fay arrive for a vacation at a Spanish villa that actually belongs to Fay’s boss, and is supposed to be empty. Fay figures her significant other needs a break, so who’s to know if they sneak in for a few days of R & R?

It first dawns on Sam that their Spanish respite is not to be stress-free when a giant snake is spotted on the property.

His alarm is ratcheted up further when another vacationing couple — has-been actor Howard and his mistress Dodie — turn up at the same villa.

Then snakes of a criminal sort arrive after Sam mistakenly claims their suitcase full of money at the airport, instead of his own bag containing T-shirts, flip-flops and Bermuda shorts.

Can Sam and Howard learn to work together to save their own skins? The comedy is sure to keep audiences guessing, said Deborah.

She and Dennis had a sizable measure of real-life stress when the original actor cast as the gangster Mad Dog Moon had to drop out due to health problems two weeks ago, and the role was recast with competent community actor Michael Sutherland.

The O’Briens also voluntarily added another complication by double-casting the roles of Fay and Dodie because so many strong female actors showed up at the audition.

As a result, Debby Allan and Wanda Oler will alternate in the role of Fay, to Jim Claggett’s Sam, and Nicole Deacon and Tara Rorke will take turns playing Dodie, to Fred Andersen’s Howard.

The co-directors solved the problem of double rehearsals by each taking on one set of actors.

Dennis, whose acting association with CAT goes back to ‘87, said he and Deborah relied on their own unique strengths for this project.

So far, he’s understood the intricacies of set design, and has been game at getting up and showing the actors exactly what kind of reaction he’s after. Deborah, who’s been acting with CAT since ‘98, has shown her own forte in casting and organizational areas. “I always ask the actors, ‘What’s your motivation?’” she said.

The couple, who met through their interest in community theatre, feel they owe much to CAT. Dennis recalled being so shy he could never stand up and speak to an audience. “It really made me step out of my comfort zone.”

Deborah laughingly added, “I’m not there yet” — in terms of public speaking.

But the two have proven that it’s possible for a marriage to survive co-directing a play together.

Deborah joked that she and Dennis tackled house renovations together, so they’re up for anything.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

WHAT: Central Alberta Theatre presents the comedy Heatstroke, by Eric Chappell

WHEN: Friday, March 26 to May 9 (dinner at 6 p.m., show at 8 p.m., except for Sunday brunch at noon, show at 1:45 p.m.)

WHERE: Black Knight Inn dinner theatre

TICKETS: $59 from Black Knight Ticket Centre