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Midsummer [a play with songs]: a review

October 19, 2012

Midlife crisis is difficult to explain but easy to understand, and when it’s encountered safely as a seat-belted, risk-free, guided whirlwind tour, the sort of vicarious experience that results from theatre done well, it can also be very VERY funny. Cathartic case in point: Midsummer [a play with songs], the internationally acclaimed romantic comedy that has launched the new season in the Shumiatcher Sandbox Series as a laugh-out-loud roll in the sack that is energized and energizing. Moments after the actors have taken their final bows in the Templeton Studio Cabaret, you’ll wish they’d return to the stage, start at the top of the show, and do it all over again. Treat yourself. Go and see it!

This production of the David Greig-Gordon McIntyre collaboration, a smash hit at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2009, serves as director Michael Scholar Jr.’s introduction as artistic associate at the Globe, and he comes on like gangbusters. He couldn’t ask for a stronger first impression. It also marks the Globe debut of the Edmonton-based Clinton Carew, who, having found his way to Regina once, has no excuse now not to return again, the sooner the better. Amy Matysio, the other actor in this clever two-hander, is a familiar face to local audiences, and this is arguably her finest performance. Carew plays a car salesman named Bob, a small-time crook who manages to stay one step ahead of the law and only half a step ahead of the mob (or whatever they call it in Edinburgh) and Matysio is Helena, a lawyer who seduces him and thus sets in motion not merely a weekend-long affair but a sequence of misadventures that takes them from sex with no strings attached to a love that binds, both puns intended.

Tempting as it is, I won’t share the specifics, because the impact of this show is in its revelations. It is non-stop punchlines and plot twists, except for the songs, and sometimes even they include punchlines and plot twists. Suffice it to say, Midsummer could just as easily be called a coming-of-age story as a play about midlife crisis, and the bottom-line conclusion is that, yes, change is possible, it CAN happen. It’s an uplifting piece, if you will, and the impressive thing about this particular production is that it’s so smooth and seamless despite a ridiculously short preparation period of two weeks. Under the circumstances, allowances could be made here for a show that was under-rehearsed, but Scholar’s presentation requires no such apologies. The pace is fast, the scenes shift frequently back and forth in time, the ambiance flip-flops between unabashed hilarity and tender poignancy, and yet Matysio and Carew stay in sync every step of the way, which is crucial to the show’s success. They find the humanity in their characters, and portray them so vividly that you can’t help but like Helena and Bob, even though, initially at least, they give you plenty of reasons NOT to like them.

Along with portraying the two central characters, Carew and Matysio occasionally speak directly to the audience as narrators, in soft Scottish accents, and they also take turns supporting their partner by creating the minor characters that facilitate the storytelling. And what storytelling it is! The sexy love story is paramount, of course, but the script also segues into social commentary, psychological probing of this and that, and at one point a parody of the romantic-comedy genre itself, not to mention a spoof of pop culture in the late 20th century. But Midsummer does not advocate, and it’s by no means didactic. Even if you take nothing home with you, the 90 minutes you’ve just spent in the theatre is more than sufficient reward.

Under the guidance of musical director Jeremy Sauer, Carew plays an acoustic guitar that brings a troubadour element to the show (at times he reminded me of Bruce Springsteen in one of his unplugged phases) and Matysio provides accompaniment on harmonium, ukelele and various hand-held percussion instruments (but not all at once.) Midsummer requires the performers to deliver some very distinct images to the audience, and that is accomplished not only through dialogue but with music and lyrics as well. This production is presented on a small thrust stage, and the dominant piece in the set, designed by Crystal L. Spicer, is a platform that serves as everything from bench to bar to bed. Costume designer Emma Williams has dressed Bob in a uniform of black boots, bluejeans, T-shirt and light windbreaker, and Helena is seen in red dress and high heels for the first half of the show and then a layered pink bridesmaid’s gown the rest of the way. Patrick James’s lighting design delineates the shifts not only in time and place but also in mood.

Midsummer [a play with songs] runs from Oct 18 – 27, 2012. Tickets for this production start at $20 (plus GST) and can purchased through the Globe Theatre website.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the Globe Theatre website at www.globetheatrelive.com.

Nick Miliokas is a freelance writer and editor based in Regina. You can reach him by email at rozenstern@rocketmail.com.

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