Dramatis Personae’s
Smoke & Mirrors

Westmount’s community theatre picks six funny short plays

By Byron Toben

The purpose of acting, as explained by 15th century prince and dramaturge Hamlet Jr., was and is “as t’were to hold a mirror up to Nature”.

But sometimes, smoke clouds the glass and the actors are slightly a-kilter. M.D. and playwright Anton Chekov explained the harmful effects of tobacco in his one-act play on the subject 120 years ago, but probably did not envisage its effect on drama in general.

This last point was the theme of the closing short play of Westmount’s community theatre Dramatis Personae in presenting their fall selection of six short plays last weekend at Victoria Hall. Entitled Smoke Scenes by Nick Zagone, it posited a director, Henry Nesvadba, calling out to a quartet of actors, including Karen Saunder, to quickly depict a mini scene about smelling smoke in the style of various famous authors. The styles varied from Shakespeare to Arthur Miller and even a mime scene when Marcel Marceau was invoked.

The purpose of acting… was and is “as t’were to hold a mirror up to Nature”. But sometimes, smoke clouds the glass and the actors are slightly a-kilter.

Of the other five choices, two were by the popular David Ives, who in addition to his full length stage and film hit, Venus in Furs, is like Mr Zagone, the writer of dozens of ultra short plays. In The Philadelphia, a man (Mr. Nesvadba) explains to fellow diner Jenepher Chopra that wherever you are physically (here, New York) you are subject to where ever you are mentally. Thus he is immune to the waiter Malcolm McRae never having what’s on the menu as he is really in L.A. and thus ‘cool’. The lady tho, is frantically perplexed as she is in Philadelphia.

Dr. Fritz or The Forces of Light, Ives’s other piece, features a tourist, Clive Brewer, in agony over a presumed food poisoning, consulting a nearby local doctor, Ann Gamsa, who may or may not be that doctor or any doctor, who is convinced he just needs a tooth pulled.

In Extra Curricular Activity by Jay D. Hanagan, Xenon, an extra terrestrial visitor (Fanny Dvorkin) gets no credence from the first person encountered on a park bench (Sabrina Schwartz) as he pleads “Take me to your leader”.

Reunions by Billy Aronson takes place at a 1982 class reunion where eight students are re-united. One has become a pirate, one a warlock and one a giraffe. Old relationships still simmer beneath the new guises as they are welcomed by one still unaffected Prisca Gault.

Dramatis Personae Smoke & Mirrors WestmountMag.ca

Judaic Park by Warren Light, like many of the others, smacks of improv sketch comedy origins. In this one, Steven Spielberg, in seeking financing from a quartet of Hollywood backers, including Ann Elbourne and Cynthia Taylor, is congratulated on his genius as they suggest slight improvements to his proposal for Schindler’s List… make the skinny Jews into dinosaurs, or at least big Jews, and after liberation, ride bicycles into the clouds.

The eleven actors were ably directed by Christopher Moore in delivering their 26 roles. My only complaint was that stalwart Ellen Rubin chose not to appear on stage for this… perhaps too busy as co-producer and box office.

W.C. Field’s epitaph famously reads “on the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia”. Methinks he might have changed his mind had he seen this fine collection.

Smoke & Mirrors appeared at Victoria Hall from December 2 to 5.
More information about Dramatis Personae at theatrewestmount.com

Images: Michel Degré

Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club

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