| Dec 04, 2008

Dec 4/08 - NFLT's Opening Night

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Feature Article - December 4, 2008 It was all in the performances on Opening NightBy Jeff Green

Kelli Bell, as Libby Husniak, and Dick Miller was Clayton Fry in Opening Night

The North Frontenac Little Theatre presented Opening Night, by the popular Canadian playwright Norman Foster, in Sharbot Lake last weekend.

Opening Night is about a disastrous performance of a fictional Canadian play, “Whisper in the Wind”, a not so obscure reference to the W.O. Mitchell classic “Who Has Seen The Wind.”

All of the problems with “Whisper in the Wind” are set against the turmoil in the lives of the actors, director, audience members, and stage hands, making “Opening Night” a comedic commentary on the lives of middle-aged, middle-class Canadians in an unnamed mid-sized city.

“Opening Night” was a platform for the Little Theatre to serve up some very disciplined, strong performances by an eight-member cast.

John Pariselli led the cast as Richard Hyde-Finch, the self-important director of “Whisper in the Wind”, whose less than stellar directing career could be entirely derailed by the disastrous production, just as his five-year relationship to Cilla Frazer (Linda Jack) is headed towards a crisis. Hyde-Finch is not a nice man. His humour is bitter, his tone is frosty and superior, and when things go badly for him the audience has little reason to feel sympathy.

Pariselli caught all of nuances, and was quick with Hyde-Finch’s barbs, proving he could be very much at home with satire. The audience on the night I attended seemed to catch every line.

Linda Jack, as the long-suffering Cilla, had to wait a while for her opportunity to get a few lines in against Hyde-Finch, but when she did in the latter parts of the play, she demonstrated excellent comedic timing.

Jack and Ruth Tisdale, (Craig Godfrey and Karen Steele) are a couple attending their first theatrical performance together on the night of their 25th wedding anniversary. She is naive and star-struck in face of theatre people, and he would rather be at a ball game or selling varnish. Karen Steele gave Ruth Tisdale, who is perhaps the most sympathetic character in the play, the right combination of good-heartedness, naivetand humour. When Craig Godfrey hunched onto the stage in Jack Tisdale's plaid jacket, it was immediately obvious this guy didn’t belong in the theatre and that he was bound to cause more than a bit of discomfort for his wife, and Godfrey carried that same attitude right through the play.

John Stephens played Michael Craig, an over the hill actor who is being thrown over by Hyde-Finch, in a sufficiently earnest and needy way, setting up his transformation into a mad man who takes over the second act of “Whisper in the Wind” and begins to deliver a soliloquy from The Tempest. It was a nice touch when he makes his curtain call wearing a straight jacket.

Kelli Bell, as the eager but not so accomplished actress Libby Husniak, did a fine job in playing the object of Hyde-Finch’s sublimated desire, and as the daughter in “Whisper in the Wind” she was very funny, especially on the two occasions when she went catatonic.

Dick Miller was Clayton Fry, a British actor and ladies man hopelessly miscast as a southern farmer in “Whisper in the Wind”. Miller played well with that, stretching out the farmer's drawl only to lose the accent completely every once in a while.

Finally, Dylan McConkey, as Tom Delaney, the waiter/aspiring actor, had a number of opportunities for physical comedy. The best took place when he took the stage to play the farmer's daughter after Libby Husniak fainted opposite Michael Craig, who was by then in the midst of his Shakespearian rant. (I guess you had to be there).

Doug MacIntyre did a good job directing this excellent cast, whose quick wits brought out all the laughs in “Opening Night”.

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