By Kate Lynch (world premiere)
Directed by: Shari Hollett
The story: Backstage at a homegrown rural repertory theatre festival, a motley group of actors gets in shape for the day’s matinee performance. There’s the company veteran, Gina-the-diva; Stephanie, the angst-ridden, ambitious ingénue; Chelsea, the gothic but fresh-faced newbie; and Albert, the audience favourite and company horn-dog creating romantic havoc wherever he goes. Teddy the stage manager has her hands full, no doubt – costumes to repair, leaks to avoid, a building inspector to coddle and four actor’s messy lives to untangle – all in the name of great theatre.
Kate Lynch’s Early August is a rare glimpse at the stage actor’s dressing room. Wigs prepared, makeup applied, costumes shimmied in and out of, pre-show rituals followed. For theatre buffs it is a treat, but for those connected to the acting community, it might hit a little too close to home for comfort. The phenomenon of “early August” does appear to affect many theatre companies, a time when actors start to go a little squirrelly, and Kate Lynch uses the singularity to address such issues as backstage politics, ageism, budgets and career haggling. Mind you, they are addressed in such a lighthearted manner (this is a comedy, after all) that it is easy to let your mind brush past these things, but they are there; perhaps fodder for a meatier version of this play somewhere down the road.
The play is very well written and constructed, with the first half being slightly better than the second, only because the ending becomes predictable shortly into the second half (no spoilers here). The characters are all well defined, and all but one becomes multi-dimensional by play’s end. Set designer Victoria Wallace may have not looked further than backstage at Blyth for her inspiration – the set is small, cluttered with personal affects, wigs and a small fridge, with the graffiti’d names of past actors on its walls.
The actors do a fine job in their roles, as well. Perhaps the best is Sarah Orenstein, the “aging” actress who appears a diva, a den mother and a maneater all rolled into one. The audience is completely prepared to dislike her, but Ms. Orenstein surprises us in a most touching way, by showing Gina’s soft underbelly with one perfectly-pitched line. Similarly Tova Smith takes her character Stephanie from super-nice, uber-prepared pro to Queen B in one smooth exit - by play’s end she is a gal going places and can now leave others in the proverbial dust.
Newcomer Haley McGee has excellent comic timing and deadpans some of the play’s funniest lines as the newbie Chelsea; her comic rival is Gil Garrett, who manages the task of being flirtatious to all four women without being icky. Of course the coup for Blyth was casting Catherine Fitch to be Teddy the stage manager – she already had three seasons of Slings and Arrows under her belt as the long-suffering stage manager Maria. The difference here is that while Maria was treated worse than dirt by her coworkers, Teddy is a managing goddess (perhaps this is Ms. Lynch’s thank-you to all those Marias out there). Teddy holds all the cards and is really the tour de force that keeps the play running (on time, too!), and Ms. Fitch makes the most of each moment, be it practical, comical, dramatic or even romantic (that’s all the spoiler you’re going to get).
A show for anyone connected to a summer theatre festival, any theatre buff, or any laughter afficianado, Early August continues in repertory until August 27 at the Blyth Festival.