Nostalgia fans will delight in the Belfry Theatre’s production of Jitters by David French. This classic Canadian farce, set in the late 70s at a theatre not unlike the fledging Tarragon Theatre where the play was first produced, is a throwback to the era of macrame wall hangings, danish furniture, shag carpets and one-piece leisure suits.
This play-within-a play is a behind the scenes look at what happens when a small theatre company takes on a new work by an up-and-coming and high-strung playwright portrayed by Kyle Jespersen. Missing actors, forgotten lines and drinking problems are just some of the many comic catastrophes this nine-person cast faces in the lead up to opening night, which has the added pressure of a big-time American broadway producer expected to show.
While the audience never gets the chance to see the play-within-the play, The Care and Treatment of Roses, it is a treat for any avid theatre goer to get an honest (and funny) behind the scenes look. But Jitters is so much more than a backstage farce: French uses the lighthearted play to speak about serious issues facing Canadian theatre culture.
Director Patrick McDonald’s choice to set the play in the era in which it was written was an odd but refreshing one, given that while most things (like our sense of humour) have changed immensely since the ’70s, others, like many of the issues facing Canadian theatre, remain the same.
A leading lady (Laurie Paton) has achieved success south of the border, but faces discrimination from the leading man (Dean Paul Gibson) because of her achievements. Gibson portrays his character’s insecurity well, with ample abhorrence and hostility towards Paton, who he even refuses to kiss at one point. His blatant disdain for the leading lady is apparent right from the start.
A self-absorbed aging actor ( Norman Browning) battling with negative self-talk feels he needs a prompter, and makes mountains out of molehills whenever he gets the chance.
Ted Cole is engaging as the director, who’s aim is to please, not necessarily the audience, but the dysfunctional and disorderly cast.
Lindsey Angell and Hazel Venzon make lasting impressions as the flirty and fun front-of-house girl and stage manager — two characters that are intriguing yet underutilized.
The set, a double-sided revolve by Charlotte Dean, is a magical ’70s wonderland showing both the set for Care and Treatment of Roses and the cramped and shabby backstage area of the community theatre. The only criticism here is that because they had to change the set twice, they needed two intermissions making Jitters last longer than it needed to.
Costumes by Nancy Bryant are right on the money, with huge collars, denim suits and polyester galore.
Jitters feels like one of those familiar ’70s sitcoms — the only thing missing is the laugh track. Thankfully artificial laughter isn’t needed, as this cast provides plenty of chuckles. M
Jitters continues at the Belfry until Dec. 18
tickets at belfry.bc.ca