By James Karas
Jitters is a hilarious play by David French and Soulpepper gives it a very funny production. It is a backstage farce in which French pulls out all the comic stops with a group of eccentric, self-centered, neurotic, egotistical and crazy actors who are putting on a play.
As you may have guessed, just about everything goes wrong. They are putting on The Care and Treatment of Roses and the fun begins. The star of The Care is Jessica (Diane D’Aquila), an actress past her best-before-date, who tosses an apron at her costar Patrick (Geordie Johnson) with such force that it knocks his hat off. He wants to punch her in the mouth.
Kevin Bundy, Oliver Dennis, Geordie Johnson & Diane D'Aquila. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Patrick is a bit of a psychopath who calls people at three in the morning, drinks too much, and is crazy. Johnson speaks in a heavy Irish accent but in the play within the play he attempts an Italian accent which he simply cannot do.
The neurotic Phil (Oliver Dennis) is insulted by the hideous wig he has to wear. He does not like his pants, has different size shoes for each foot and wants a prompter because he muffs his lines frequently. In short he is hilarious.
Mike Ross plays Robert, the nervous pill-popping playwright of The Care who is defensive of his script and a pain to deal with.
Kevin Bundy is George the director who must cajole, persuade, kiss derrieres and calm down egos to keep things moving and get the play performed. Jordan Pettle plays Nick, the officious and pedantic stage manager who tries desperately to get or keep things going.
The offstage arguments and petty squabbles among the actors, their angsts, indeed torments about how they will be received by the critics and their apprehension about the reaction to the play by a New York producer, with some exceptions, add up to mayhem and high entertainment.
The exceptions are that some lines misfire and there is not the buildup of energy and laughter that should (we hope) leave us with sore stomachs from laughter by the end of the third act. Director Ted Dykstra does not achieve the magic result of a farce that has a straight trajectory of increasing hilarity. There are numerous and often hearty laughs but the production as a whole falls short of a great performance.
The sets by designer Patrick Clark consist of a living room in the play-within-a-play which is very good. In the second act the setting is the dressing room and the Green Room. The two rooms are separated by a only an orange curtain covering a small portion of the “wall” between the two areas. The design is awkward and may be simply the result of lack of space.
The individual performances by Dennis, D’Aquila, Johnson, Bundy, Ross and Pettle are very good and very funny. What is lacking is the extra ingredient where everything comes together on stage and it engages the audience to such an extent in the laughter that the only thing we don’t do is roll in the aisles.
Jitters by David French continues until April 7, 2016 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario. www.soulpepper.ca.