There is something delicious about sitting in the audience of a Teatro la Quindicina play, and it’s not just the plethora of licorice. Jeff Haslam, Teatro’s Artistic Director, describes the mandate of the company as being to bring a party to the audience, and that is exactly the ambiance established at the Varscona Theatre during Stewart Lemoine’s newest marvel Happy Toes. It seems odd to watch a piece of live theatre while being so aware of the other audience members surrounding you, but the blithe, communal spirit emanating from every chair in the Varscona creates a strong sense of tradition and pride- that can be felt even by someone who is coming to the theatre for the first time. Enter: Edgar (Ron Pederson) and Tony (Jeff Haslam), two friends with a penchant for running and coffee, who speak thoughtfully about the state of complete happiness, and an intriguing bank teller named Cora (Leona Brausen) who wishes her bank would be struck by lightning so that she could go home. The questions they ask are subtle, but Lemoine’s wit and intelligence, as always, ensures that the audience is instantly captivated.
The world that Lemoine creates is one where people are generous to one another, harsh judgments are abandoned in favor of patience and care, and people take the time to show genuine interest in the lives of other people. In watching such a play, the audience is encouraged to view the world through a similar lense.
Tony and Edgar are joined by Alex (Julien Arnold), who is afraid that his wife is involved in a torrid love affair; except he appears to be both the cuckold and the lover. A lovely friendship is created for these three men, as Alex opens up about his confusion over his wife’s odd behavior. Edgar and Tony gently observe the other three characters in the play, and therefore the audience sees Cora, Alex and Alex’s wife Janine (Davina Stewart), through Edgar and Tony’s perceptions. There is a subtle contrast between the male friendships of Edgar, Tony and Alex, and the makeshift female relationship that develops between Cora and Janine, but Lemoine walks the line between creating humorous, recognizable situations, and never slipping into stereotypes. At the end of the play, it is clear that through their friendship, Edgar, Tony, Alex and Cora will take care of one another, and Janine has developed the skills to better take care of herself.
The play is staged and cast perfectly as every movement and line, however subtle or simple, is performed with a deliberate sense of care. It is obvious that these artists have been working together for a long time, which adds to the seamless sense of perfection. Jeff Haslam delivers his lines with such sincerity it’s a marvel that they’re not coming impromptu straight from his heart. Julien Arnold’s Alex is loveable and funny which allows the audience to feel for him throughout his odd experience with Janine, from the confusion he feels over the strange love affair to the pain that comes with the end of his marriage. Davina Stewart plays Janine with a perfect balance of insecurity cloaked in confidence. Leona Brausen is delightful as Cora, whose every line is delivered just as it should be to radiate goodness and laughter amid the more weighty and sad circumstances. Ron Pederson is genuine and insightful (and wry and puckish) as Edgar and can make the entire audience laugh with a single glance their way.All in all, like most (or, I would argue, all) Teatro la Quindicina plays, Happy Toes is the perfect prescription for happiness. It’s a little something to give you a spring in your step and to reinforce a sense of faith in humanity through friendship and love.