Jitters is the Best Theatrical Disaster Ever!

noah reid, kevin bundy, mike ross, oliver dennis, c. david johnson
photo by cylla von tiedemann
According to David French, whose play Jitters has just been held over to July 31st, 2010 at Soulpepper Theatre, I need to delve into my academic psyche and find something about this production to nitpick because as a theatre critic, I can’t just come out and say the production is perfect. And yet, I must freely admit that this show is as close to perfection as one could ever hope to find.
Jitters has been called “David French’s love letter to Canadian theatre” and indeed, it accumulates all the most tumultuous aspects of bringing a new play to its opening night by a small theatre company in Canada with joyful hilarity and an enamoured heart. The play centers on Robert, a young playwright who is hoping to build on the success of his first play with his newest work, The Care and Treatment of Roses, which stars “Canada’s own” Jessica Logan, an actor who has made a name for herself in a slew of Broadway flops, and Patrick Flanagan, an actor who has built his career on stages across this country which has left him with a resolutely bitter inferiority complex. Jitters is the place where Logan and Flanagan’s egos collide with explosive wit and humour as they wreak havoc on their director, playwright, stage manager and the other actors in the cast in a gleefully delicious theatrical romp.
David French is a brilliant playwright. His characters in this play are larger than life, yet infused with unmistakable humanity. His dialogue is crisp and filled with clever quips, and the play is teeming with shrewd insights into the world of the theatre. Although the play was written in 1979, it is startling how relevant and contemporary some of the issues he touches on in his jokes are including the relationship between the Toronto theatre community and their theatre critics, and the reality that one can spend a lifetime toiling in the Canadian theatre as a top-notch actor and still feel as though he may die “broke and anonymous” because Canadians perpetuate a culture that punishes its own success. As someone who works from within the current community here, it is wonderfully refreshing to be able to confront these familiar obstacles in such a light-hearted, fun, artful and empowering way. Thank you, David French, for that!
Ted Dykstra’s direction is flawless, as he truly mines every moment for its maximum comic potential and keeps the energy of the cast flying as their characters continue to either slam into one another or chase one another passionately around the theatre. French has scripted such rich dramatic collisions for his characters, as everyone’s objectives are constantly being thwarted by one other and they are all compelled to beg, plead, guilt and manipulate in manoeuvring their way to Opening Night. Dykstra’s direction is a perfect complement to French’s writing so that all these moments are captured absolutely seamlessly.
The cast of this show gives such fresh life and unique individuality and humanity to each of their characters. Sarah Wilson is hilarious as the ditzy Peggy, Jordan Pettle gives a delightfully bitchy performance as the most absurdly anal stage manager in theatre history and Noah Reid is charming and endearing with just the right dose of exuberant ego as the young starring actor, Tom. Kevin Bundy is great as the placating director, George, who at times even seems to mirror a 1970s Dykstra, in a bit of meta-theatrical relish. Mike Ross is like a 24 year old Woody Allen as novice playwright, Robert, and just as awkwardly and eccentrically self conscious to much esteem. Diane D’Aquila is perfect as Jessica Logan, the unstoppable diva, and she is equally matched with C. David Johnson’s portrayal of Patrick, a more internally damaged actor constantly tormented by his own self-doubt and fear. Oliver Dennis gives an utterly hysterical performance as the nervous, hot tempered yet mild mannered Phil, who can’t remember his lines to save his soul. Giving rise to the play’s title, as far as jitters are concerned, Phil has got all of them and Dennis, with his swift comic timing, makes this performance one not to be missed.
Patrick Clark’s sets and costumes set the perfect tone to reflect both the late 1970s and the ambitious, yet budgeted, means of a small theatre company just starting out. If you’re a theatre nerd like me, there is much joy to uncover in reading the walls of the backstage area set, which are peppered with real references to the early days of the indigenous Canadian theatre! Creighton Doane also provides a genuinely noteworthy sound design that also reflects the era of the piece.
It may be true that the Canadian theatre is not an institution that churns out wildly famous stars, but productions like Jitters at Soulpepper certainly prove that the artists who work here have world-class talent and we are fortunate that they keep giving us the gift of perfectly marvellous evenings at the theatre.
Soulpepper’s production of Jitters plays at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (55 Mill Street) until July 31st, 2010. For more information and to book your tickets please call 416.866.8666 or go online at http://www.soulpepper.ca.   

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