Jim Claggett

Central Alberta Theatre reprising popular Culture Shock

Does the past predict the future? Central Alberta Theatre is counting on it with the reprise of the popular Canadian comedy Culture Shock.

Does the past predict the future? Central Alberta Theatre is counting on it with the reprise of the popular Canadian comedy Culture Shock.

Brian Spencer directed the Lorne Elliott play, about a bored Newfoundlander who heads west to see the rest of the country, about seven years ago.

Culture Shock was then staged not by CAT but as a fundraiser for the non-profit Central Alberta Residents Society, which helps the mentally disabled. It proved a big success.

Spencer recalled thousands of dollars were raised as word of mouth spread about the “laugh-a-minute” slapstick comedy. Soon it was completely sold out and “a lot of people who wanted to come and see it couldn’t get tickets,” he recalled.

Well, here’s a second chance.

Central Alberta Theatre is doing a new version of Culture Shock, with Spencer once again in the director’s chair. It runs from Jan. 10 to Feb. 2 at the Nickle Studio, upstairs at Red Deer’s Memorial Centre.

Local actors Paul Sutherland and his real-life dad, Michael Sutherland, are again assuming the roles of feckless son, Hillyard Philpott ,and his eyeball-rolling father.

Hillyard is a lad from Newfoundland who’s weary of life in his outport. Unemployed since accidentally blowing up the local fish plant, Hillyard hits the road seeking fame and fortune. He’s armed only with his wits — which is a problem, since Hillyard is near witless.

Trouble finds him in Montreal, where the hitchhiker is picked up by escaped convicts Jean and his brother Réjean.

The duo are kind of like “Darryl and my other brother Darryl” from the old Newhart TV series, said Spencer, with a chuckle. A closer comparison might be to characters from the movie Dumb and Dumber — only with Quebeçois accents.

One thing leads to another and suddenly Hillyard is disturbed to discover his own family members drawn to a legally dubious scheme.

“The comedy just zips out of one scene and into another,” said Spencer, who added the 90-minute play that was once taped for CBC broadcast is so comical and his cast so seasoned, that his job has been a cinch. “It’s not much of a brainer for me to just sit there and watch and have a good laugh.”

The only hitch has been getting all the busy actors at the same rehearsals.

Spencer said Paul and Michael Sutherland have had hectic schedules as both were involved with different plays ­— as was Tim Newcomb, who plays Réjean. (Brother Jean is being played by Blaine Newton while Jim Claggett takes on the role of Cyril the mailman.)

But the veteran cast is doing great, he added. “I’ve just been keeping the pace up” of various scenes, as well as reining in actors when they go off on improvised tangents. “Sometimes I have to tell them to stick to the script.”

Spencer promises plenty of belly laughs and no moral whatsoever. “There’s nothing deep at all. You just get guffaws all around.”


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