The Angel of Death is a tart-tongued paper-pusher in the play The Death of Me, while little voices in people’s heads take on a life of their own in the comedy My Narrator.
Central Alberta Theatre restarted its dinner theatres at the Quality Inn North Hill on Thursday with two surrealist one-act plays by Canada’s go-to playwright, Norm Foster.
The result is a quirky, sometimes uneven but occasionally hilarious evening of entertainment, under the direction of Debra O’Brien.
The first play, My Narrator, was the stronger of the two comedies during Tuesday’s dress rehearsal. The plot is about two young people who are testing the waters to see if they have a shot at romance.
Considering that artist Lacy is fed up with men, she’s not initially interested in socially awkward, eager-beaver salesman Miles.
Lacy, played with eye-rolling impatience by Jessica Summers, responds negatively to Miles’ repeat offers to help her buy a shirt, but later wavers when he invites her to dinner.
Lacy’s “inner narrator” (played by Cynthia Edwards) sensibly tries to steer her away from sad-sack Miles, but starving artists have to eat. Therefore Lacy ignores her narrator and agrees to go out with the misfit, played by Ian Sheppard, to get a free meal.
During their first date, Miles manages to come across as desperate, boorish and cheap (he takes Lacy to a divey restaurant because he has a two-for-one coupon) — until he also retains an inner narrator (Michael Sutherland) to guide him.
Given their penchant for self-sabotage, neither Lacy nor Miles are always interested in following the prudent advice their narrators give them. This proves especially alarming when their inner voices fall in love with each other and suddenly find a vested interest in keeping Lacy and Miles together.
Two veteran CAT actors, Edwards and Sutherland, performed with two relative newbies, Summers and Sheppard, in this fantasy play, and all four worked well together. Although Edwards needs to watch her sing-song delivery and some of the actors’ exchanges could be tightened up, the short scenes zipped along nicely and there was even a bit of a twist ending.
Debra O’Brien generally did a good job of mounting the two comedies on the spacious new stage set up in a banquet room at the Quality Inn. The actors moved their own props and minimalist set pieces between the well-paced scenes, and this worked efficiently for both plays.
The Death of Me started out promisingly, buoyed by great performances by Erna Soderberg, as the hilariously matter-of-fact Angel of Death, and Josh Earl as John, the hapless, confused young man who died unexpectedly from an aortic aneurysm.
But the play quickly lost steam after John is given a brief reprise at life in order to tie up some loose ends on Earth.
He is sent to talk to the woman who jilted him at the altar some four years previously. And his ex-fiancée, Cassie, played by Debra’s stepdaughter Kira O’Brien, turns out to be a very, very odd woman indeed. I’m not sure if Foster meant for the audience to find the character mentally unbalanced, but it seems clear that John dodged a bullet when he was dumped before the ceremony.
The problem is Cassie’s portrayal is too intense and disturbing to be funny. And much the same can be said for the doctor, played by CAT veteran and Debra’s husband, Dennis O’Brien. His uncaring, holiday-planning, luxury-car-buying physician could probably have gained something from a more breezy depiction. But the character, as written, is too much of a stereotype to offer us much to laugh at anyway — and this dragged the play down.
Still, Foster serves up a satisfying ending.
Another bonus is Earl’s terrific portrayal of John, who is reminiscent of Jesse from TV’s Breaking Bad in giving viewers some humanity to hang on to amid all the craziness.
My Narrator and The Death of Me continue until Nov. 29.