The Leisure Society

Review by Dave Sullivan

On Wednesday night I had the opportunity to check out the newly renovated Basement Theatre of the Arts and Culture Centre and c2c Theatre’s season opening production of Fran├žois Archambault’s The Leisure Society.

Before I start on the play itself, the renovations to the basement theatre are exceptional. It is like a brand new space down there. They’ve raised the ceilings and – to make us all feel at home – have acquired the seating from the LSPU Hall. An incredible job to what was a dying piece of theatre history here in Newfoundland and Labrador. Kudos to the Arts and Culture Centre for doing such a wonderful Job.

Now… on to the play.

The Leisure Society is written by well known French Canadian playwright Fran├žois Archambault. A graduate of National Theatre School of Canada’s playwriting program. The young playwright has become well known for his edgy subject matter and no-holds-barred style of writing. The Leisure Society is no different. This play handles taboo topics such as race, child neglect/abuse, infidelity, and suicide as if it were a football in an NFL Playoff game. The concept of ‘handle with kid gloves’ is obviously not a part of Archambault’s vernacular.

These dangerous ideas and concepts are washed down with a heavy dose of comedy, it is up to the audience as to whether or not the comedy makes it easier to swallow these themes. Personally, I did choke on a few of them, however I found myself laughing out loud a lot.

It is a risky move to open a new season and a new space with a show that ventures past provocative and into the realm of offense. However c2c Theatre has handled it reasonably well. Opening night there were some timing issues within the early going of the play. These moments fueled no doubt by the newness of performing in front of a live audience for the first time. The play seemed really hit its stride halfway through the play.

After that stride was hit I was fully engaged and ready to go anywhere they decided to take me.

The show is littered with incredible performances from some ‘veteran’ St. John’s actors, and even an appearance by a Corner Brook boy. Jonathan Watton plays Peter, a character best described as a cross between Ward Cleaver and Freddy Kreuger. Peter is a man who is simmering inside and as the years of unhappiness mount so does the pressure in his head. When we first meet him he is on the cusp of explosion. Watton puts in one of the most diverse and intelligent performances I’ve seen in this city in a long time. This role is difficult, in that there’s a danger of playing one note throughout the entire play. Watton, however, layers his performance — it is then the audience’s responsibility to peel those layers back to find the truth within the character.

Mary, Peter’s wife — also simmering about a life unfulfilled — is played wonderfully by Petrina Bromley. This character like Peter is quite complex and incredibly unhappy for a variety of reasons that simmer just under the skin. I felt Bromley did a fantastic job in masking what lay beneath the surface, while at the same time allowing small peaks inside her psyche along the way. Along with putting in a great dramatic performance, Bromley was hilarious when called upon. No surprise, as a veteran of Rising Tide Theatre’s Annual Review show, Bromley has been cracking up audiences across the province for years. This performance was truly three dimensional and incredibly defined.

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the night came from the performance of Aiden Flynn. I’ve seen this guy perform in dozens and dozens of plays. Like, hundreds of them. Thousands. Just when I thought, ‘well there isn’t anything else Aiden can show me.’ Just when I figured, ‘well I know what Aiden can do, I’ve seen him in thousands of plays.’ I’m proven wrong. Aiden Flynn turns in an absolutely fascinating performance of a recently divorced man, Mark, who has all of a sudden found himself a hip and happening bachelor again. Flynn hits every single note with a dialed back, confident, and mature handling of the character. My ears and eyes perked up every time he stepped onto the stage. A beautiful sense of reality put into ever breath of the character.

Last, but certainly not least is Jessie Power. Jessie plays Mark’s (Aiden Flynn), 21 year old special friend. (A f#ck buddy, if you will.) Power does a great job as this free loving and experimentation-seeking love child. Her reactions to the situations she finds herself in are priceless at times. But it’s not all fun and games, Power puts in some real acting moments towards the end of the play as Peter (Watton) begs for some closure in his life. Perfectly cast for the role, Power’s performance is sure to raise a few eyebrows.

The lighting of the space was wonderful for the most part, with boxes being lit on either side of the stage to fill out the warmth of the room nicely. Lighting Designer Brian Bishop really made magic out of limited resources and possibilities. The only problem I had had with the lighting was purely aesthetic with the use of ‘dusk’ lighting to show the passage of time. I felt as if this convention didn’t need to be there, and disrupted the flow of the play from time to time. However, the other 99.9 per cent of the lighting was spectacular, it showed a deep understanding of the text and the tone inside each scene.

The sound design is also worth a mention. Shannon Hawes used a beautiful piano soundtrack to weave the scenes together. The music carried us on every note to the next scene. The play seemed to be written with that music in mind. There’s also a really cool Pink Floyd cover halfway through that I quite enjoyed.

Should you go see this play? Well, that depends. If you are sensitive to certain subject matter, perhpaps it’s best you stay home and watch Two and a Half Men. If you aren’t skittish, then by all means come to the Arts and Culture Centre and check it out.

The Leisure Society directed by Brad Hodder, and Stage Managed by Elyse Summers runs until November 30th at the Basement Theatre. Showtime is 8pm. Tickets are $20 and are available at the Arts and Culture Centre Box Office. PWYC Matinee Saturday at 2pm for those who can’t afford the hefty ticket price.