Heartfelt Playing in Chester

If you had told me a year ago that in August 2009 I would be reviewing the iconic Canadian theatre superstar Lally Cadeau, I would have accidentally spit my drink in your eye. Lally Cadeau!? The Lally Cadeau?! There aren’t enough exclamation points to adequately describe my exhilaration. I think that Lally Cadeau performing at Chester Playhouse opposite none other than Nigel Bennett (one of my favourite local actors) was the event of the Nova Scotia Summer Theatre season. Truly, if you managed to catch Heart to Heart in its whirlwind two week run, you witnessed a treat.
Of course, I grew up watching Cadeau as she entered my home every Sunday night as Janet King on Road to Avonlea, whose cast, along with that of Anne of Green Gables had a profound effect in the early fostering of my interest in Canadian film, television and theatre. Beyond television, however, Cadeau has had a brilliant career onstage, including nine seasons at the Stratford Festival, and roles across Canada and the United States. Most recently she played Sister Aloysius in Doubt at the Citadel Theatre for which she was nominated for a Sterling Award. I’ve known of Lally Cadeau since I was five years old, and yet I was entirely unprepared for how utterly hysterical she is.
I am of course familiar with Nigel Bennett’s extensive resume, having grown up in Halifax. His portrayal of King Claudius in Linda Moore’s Hamlet at Neptune’s Studio Theatre in 2000 remains my favourite nine years (and a trip to Stratford) later. His outstanding portrayal of Gus in The Dumb Waiter was the best introduction to the work of Harold Pinter a future theatre critic could have asked for. Nigel Bennett is also hysterically funny. Ergo, to put Nigel Bennett and Lally Cadeau in a witty romp through the splendours and perils of modern relationships creates a recipe for an excruciatingly fun time.
Heart to Heart is a light, fun, little Summerstock play written by Felix Medina and it received its North American premiere July 22nd-August 1st at Chester Playhouse in gorgeous Chester, Nova Scotia. Frequently these sorts of frothy bits of theatre leave me craving something more substantial, but I was continually impressed with the wittiness of Medina’s vernacular and the freshness of the characters and relationships he explored in this play. Reminiscent of Shirley Valentine and I Love You, You’re Perfect Now Change, two shows that I have issues with, I found that Heart to Heart had all the nostalgia and charm of the aforementioned and yet a sharper, less stereotyped perspective. The jokes were not tired celebrity stand-up routines, but delightful and unexpected. It was the first time in awhile that my mum and I went to the theatre and were both giggling for the same reason.
Bennett and Cadeau played five pairs embroiled in a heightened moment of their lives: an older couple who met via personal advertisements in the newspaper, an affluent gay man and his secretary desperate for companionship, a married pair of actors in their golden years, siblings on Angela’s third wedding day and a recently divorced couple sharing one last vacation. Medina’s writing provided a sturdy foundation upon which Bennett and Cadeau were able to create these rich, zany characters and to hone hysterical moments of subtle interplay cavorting in their own inspired silliness. And yet, through it all, came the heartwarming truth, the love or at least the potential for love, without becoming too syrupy or melodramatic. Director Mary Lou Martin provided ample space for Bennett and Cadeau to play, while creating a tightly mechanized space out of which these stories could emerge.
Heart to Heart is a play rooted in hope and the strength we find in others when the world, absurd and arbitrary, seems adamant to tear us all to shreds. And after the performance, as the sun streamed across Chester and the flowers shone and the ocean sparkled, the world seemed a little sweeter and I didn’t mind loosing myself in the beauty of it. Sunshine, giggles, and two magnificent performers; what a gift indeed.

Coming soon to Chester Playhouse is Trudeau Stories, running August 5th-8th written and performed by Brooke Johnson. For more information about the Summer Season, including live music and Allen Cole’s critically acclaimed production of Rockbound, please visit this website.

Leave a Reply