Look on the bright side…

Ever since I saw Prairie Theatre Exchange’s interpretation of Girl in the Goldfish Bowl four, five, maybe six years ago, I have loved both the PTE and playwright Morris Panych. Even after seeing hundreds of other plays, that particular production still resonates as one of my favourite theatre experiences of all time. Since I had such an exquisite introduction to Panych, you can imagine my excitement when I heard that PTE would be producing Panych’s Lawrence and Holloman, another play that I have read and loved.

And so, at the preview last Wednesday, I sat in breathless anticipation certain that I was about to have an experience to rival even Girl in the Goldfish Bowl. But I should have known that my hopes were too high.

Panych’s Lawrence and Holloman deals with one of the life’s great questions: is it better to be smart and miserable, or stupid and happy? The play tracks the relationship of Lawrence and Holloman, two men that meet at a bar one night. Lawrence seems to have everything going for him and is genuinely happy to be alive. Holloman, on the other hand, hates his life largely because of the inadequacy he feels when he looks at happy, successful people around him. Suddenly, Lawrence’s life takes a turn for the worse, and Holloman begins to study Lawrence, a man who still sees the bright side of life no matter how bad things get.

Now, the concept of the play is an intriguing one, and, in theory, it could develop in many interesting ways. The problem that I had with this particular production was that there did not seem to be any arc for the characters. I never felt that the play was building toward anything in particular. It almost seemed as though the actors were going through the motions. Perhaps part of my problem stemmed from the pacing, which seemed to rush ahead without stopping for breath. Panych should be played relatively fast, but it almost seemed as though the actors were under-rehearsed, or had simply not been able to find their groove in some of the scenes.

I also had a problem with blocking. On a thrust stage (one in which there is audience on three sides), the actors should make use of the diagonals so that at least one of them is visible to each side of the audience at all times. However, I found the two men often stood or sat parallel to one another, leaving nothing for me to look at except the back of a head. It could be that I am not taking all things into consideration, but I thought this blocking rule (use the diagonals) was kind of common theatre knowledge.

So, some aspects of the production were a downer for me. The writing was also not quite as good as I remembered. But I still had an enjoyable time because Lawrence (played by Matthew Edison) is such a lovable character. He may be the most backward, sexist egoist that ever walked the Earth, yet he has everything going for him because he has a kind of crazed faith in himself, and in the ultimate goodness of other people. Sure he’s a pig, but he’s an extremely happy one, and his love of life is contagious.

One of my fave scenes: Lawrence insists that women are strange creatures. To demonstrate, he blows into a paper bag then pops it. How does this illustrate that women are strange? Well, a woman would never make a loud banging noise with her empty lunch bag, even though it is the obvious course of action. Instead, she would fold the bag into a neat little square and put it in her purse, because women never let go of anything.

Like I said, Lawrence is such a jerk! But you should go and see this play just to relish all of the hilarious shenanigans that he gets into, anyway.

Lawrence and Holloman runs at Prairie Theatre Exchange until Feb. 28.