kevin hanchard and lesley faulkner star in george f. walker’s comedic featuring loretta, may 1 – june 20, 2010, at factory theatre.
ed gass donnelly photograph.
Whenever I attend shows at Factory Theatre I always find myself examining the theatre posters that adorn the walls and pouring over thirty-eight years worth of Canadian theatre history that preceded my first walking through the door. I feel exorbitantly fortunate to have seen all the theatre I have seen in Toronto in the past two years and yet I remain continually aware of how much I have not seen. This becomes especially pertinent when productions are revived, such as George F. Walker’s play Featuring Loretta, which plays at Factory until June 20th, 2010, as theatre critics and audiences always clamour to compare the revival to the original production.
Featuring Loretta was first produced in February 1998 by Buffalo Nights Theatre in Los Angeles and Hampstead Theatre in London, England. Its Canadian Premiere was on May 14th, 1998 as part of Walker’s celebrated Suburban Motel series at the Factory Theatre. George F. Walker directs his own works with a crisp elegance that perfectly captures the gritty desperation and the absurdity of the human condition. Director Ken Gass has been criticized for turning this production from a charged rollercoaster ride into a languid picnic, but I did not find this to be the case.
This Walker play has all the elements of a dramatic piece that explores the power and allure of money and how it both enslaves and empowers those desperate to climb society’s ladder; and yet it is a comedy. Ken Gass uses this disparity in his direction as well, playing with his audience’s expectations, as the stories and the characters become increasingly quirky and hilariously strange which alludes to the absurdity of this particular human condition.
The play is centered around Loretta, a young waitress who is trying to escape her past, her responsibilities and what she sees as being a domineering and suffocating relationship with her family. She moves into a seedy motel room and quickly becomes entangled with David, a clingy and weak salesman desperate for promotion who has fallen obsessively in love with her and Michael, a sleazy “business agent” with dreams of featuring her in a series of “erotic videotapes.” Loretta wants to make as much money as quickly as possible, as she sees this as being her only opportunity to buy herself freedom from the shackles that await her at home, and yet it is clear, especially for the audience, that David and Michael do not offer independence, but merely the illusion of it.
Brandon McGibbon is notoriously brilliant at portraying characters that are quasi-endearing douchebags and thus he makes the perfect David. Kevin Hanchard is notoriously brilliant at portraying characters that are creepily charming assholes, and thus he makes the perfect Michael. The hilarity lies in the way that McGibbon and Hanchard spar and feed off one another in their quest for Lorrie, with egos (and erections) continuing to inflate and deflate at rapid pace as all pretence of maturity or professionalism is unravelled and discarded until both are reminiscent of stubborn seven year olds vying for the attention of the pretty girl.
Lesley Faulkner plays Loretta as though her play were a dramatic one, which I think adds to the hilarity of all the other characters. Lorrie is determined to make her own choices, she is committed to doing what she needs to do to make enough money to guarantee her survival, but her heart has given up. She has resigned herself to these circumstances and what makes this play more than a satire is that it is obvious that Lorrie has a family that loves her, cares about her and that is trying to help her, and yet, for some reason this is not enough to save her from a world that preys on the lost and the miserable.
Many of the revelations about Loretta come from her interactions with Sophie, the Russian physicist cleaning lady and daughter of the owner of the motel, who provides direct insight that threatens to cut to the core of Lorrie’s rage. Sophie is played expertly by the hilarious Monica Dottor who is so funny and strange as this character it is a wonder that even her cast mates have learned how to keep a straight face in her midst. Her inspired performance gives the play a palpable lift each time she walks through the door.
While Featuring Loretta did not smack me intensely in the face with either its shocking grittiness or its steamrolling comedy, I found that a strong cast, quirky writing and direction that played on theatrical conventions and expectations made for a fun night at the theatre while still engaging my mind and my heart.
Featuring Loretta plays at the Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst Street) until June 20th, 2010. For tickets or more information please call the Box Office at 416.504.9971 or visit this website http://www.factorytheatre.ca/.