One word can sum up my experience of the Prairie Theater Exchange’s (PTE) production of Glorious! It says it right there in my title. Need I really go on? I hesitate because giving a negative theatre review seems almost in poor taste when I want to support local theatre and embrace it as an art form that is so rarely appreciated by the younger generations, but if I must . . .
Peter Quilter’s Glorious! is a farce based on the true story of Florence Foster Jenkins (Shelley Thompson), an American Soprano, who the play’s subtitle dubs “the worst singer in the world.”
The play opens on the entrance of Cosme McMoon (Patrick Burwell), a young, effeminate pianist searching for a well-paying gig, even at the cost of his creative integrity. McMoon meets Foster Jenkins to interview for the position as her accompanist, and soon learns that she can’t sing a note. Yet he remains with her, making snide asides to the audience as we suffer through a rehearsal, recording session and two recitals.
Unfortunately Glorious! is one of those plays that you have to read about in a program or synopsis beforehand so you have some context, as the writing itself lacks any kind of dramatic arc or tension, allowing little opportunity for an audience to expect anything. It assumes that we all know the story of Florence Foster Jenkins and are dying to have a little, albeit comedic, glimpse at her life. The play gives absolutely no reason to engage with the characters on an immediate level, and, since I had no prior interest in Foster Jenkins, the play had little to hold my attention. In other words, it had no hook.
Patrick Burwell’s performance as Cosme McMoon was also horrifically one-dimensional. He spent ninety percent of the play mocking Foster Jenkins in the exact same tone of voice, and, for some reason, she was too stupid to catch on. Then, he had an unlikely change of heart and came to love her like his own mother. Since I have never seen Burwell in any other performances, as far as I am aware, he could be a wonderful actor. Yet in Glorious! he never seemed to listen to the other actors (though he sure stared at them and nodded his head a lot) and had no organic reactions as far as I could tell. At least he could play that piano.
A saving grace was the energetic physical performance given by the two women in the cast, Shelley Thompson and Terri Cherniack (who played three roles, including Foster Jenkins’ maid, a close friend and a woman that protests Foster Jenkins’ right to burden the world with her awful voice). Perhaps the most hilarious moment in the play was when Cherniack tried to dance and injured her back. I also enjoyed the way that she shifted her posture and manner of walking when she changed characters. Shelley Thompson did an excellent job of singing poorly, but having to listen to her shrilly squawking song after song became a bit tiresome, though she was endlessly enthusiastic about it.
Even though I was not a fan of the production, on April 8 the rest of the audience seemed to eat it up. I was surrounded by smiling faces and laughter for the entire evening, and much of the crowd even gave the performance a standing ovation (if a “standing O” means anything these days). Perhaps the play is best suited to a more mature, or nostalgic, audience, and not members of the “ADD generation,” such as myself.
Glorious! runs at PTE until April 25. See PTE.mb.ca for show times.