After a week’s delay, the cast of the Williams Lake Studio Theatre’s production of Table Manners comes to the stage full of vim and vigour.
Table Manners is a play set entirely in the dining room of a house in the English countryside in the early 1970s and involves a cast of six characters. Dutiful and frustrated, Annie has been caring for her mother, who is never seen on stage, for the past few years and is at her wit’s end as her attempted romance with her helpful, kind, but dense neighbour, Tom, continues to go nowhere.
Her brother, Reg, and his wife, Sarah, come from the city to give her the chance to go on a vacation away from the house until Sarah discovers Annie plans to go with the lecherous Norman, the husband of Annie’s career-obsessed sister Ruth. Sarah insists Annie call it off as Norman arrives to pick her up early and drama and comedy ensue…
Family dynamics and chemistry abound from the opening minutes of this play and continue to evolve and fray as time goes on throughout their weekend together. All six of the characters are unique and each actor brings a wholly different style of acting to the stage.
Annie is brought to fidgety, awkward and faux-polite life by Kristen Lyons, who portrays a woman at the centre of a familial squabble with sincerity. The facial expressions and tics Lyons displays throughout the play beautifully highlight what her character is truly thinking and feeling. They make for equal moments of hilarity and sadness, especially when she talks of the hardships of caring for her mother alone for the last five years.
The chemistry she has on stage with Allison Turnbull, who plays Sarah, makes for some amusing comedic moments early on. Turnbull brings an overbearing, motherly and very posh feel to her character as she attempts to dissuade Annie from running off with Norman.
Throughout the play Turnbull maintains an aloof dignity over the others characters as she attempts to mother, chastise and care for them. When this dignity cracks, however, she is able to portray real vulnerability on stage and helps give the play emotional weight.
Her husband Reg, the brother of Annie, is brought to life meanwhile by the bombastic and playful performance of William Wallace. Using a booming voice, big actions and an infectious laugh, Wallace brings a comedic and physical performance to the stage.
As the play progresses, however, it becomes clear Wallace’s character is something of a man child and drives his wife crazy as he professes she drives him. Wallace and Turnbull’s clashing personalities play off fantastically against one another in both the comedic and dramatic sense.
The actor having the most fun on stage, perhaps, is Gabriel Zamorano as the sleazy, charming and rakish Norman. Zamorano captures the focus of every scene he’s in as his character struts across the stage and loudly bemoans his place in life.
Zamorano convincingly plays a boorish trouble maker who is very open and vocal about his thoughts on his circumstances and actions and is a character you love to hate. Indeed, the only person capable of taking him down a peg is his, often mentioned with dread, wife Ruth.
With a cold, cutting and unapologetic demeanour, Kathleen MacDonald glides onto the stage as Ruth immediately commanding attention and hilarity. The famous British wit comes out in full force from MacDonald’s performance as a shortsighted, emotionally distant and prim banker more concerned about her career than her own husband.
MacDonald’s deadpan and harsh delivery make for some of the production’s funniest laughs while her stage business is excellent, as she fumbles around the dinner table looking for sugar. Zamorano and MacDonald are like fire and ice respectively, and their clashes on stage are as passionate as they are humorous.
Finally, Matt Granlund’s subtle performance as Tom makes for one of the most interesting to watch on stage. The stoic, kind but clueless love interest of Annie, Granlund brings a charming awkwardness to his performance from his mannerisms to his voice.
Unlike the other larger than life characters, Granlund rarely loses his cool and gives us a measured, reserved straight man whose reactions often make the comedy land all the harder. He is the most sincere and free of baggage and Granlund does a fantastic job portraying this absent-minded and simple man.
Where this play truly shines, however, is when all six characters are on stage together for a family dinner. There the various dynamics, chemistry and personalities all clash and mix together, boiling over in an explosive and funny way.
In the theatre, good sound design and lighting is often only appreciated when it’s fantastic or atrocious.
In Table Manners, it is most definitely the former for sound design. Throughout the play, be it the caterwauling of a cat, music on the radio or the ever-present sounds of the country, Sean Bredo masterfully mixed it all together with perfect timing.
While there are few set changes throughout the play’s run time, Renee Lozeau hits all her cues for lighting, allowing the stage crew made up of Cathie Hamm, Brad Lawryk and Christa Obergfell, to efficiently and quickly rearrange and clean the set in between acts. All of these behind the scene elements ran like a well oiled machine and kept the pace and action of the play moving at a nice clip.
Taken all together, the Studio Theatre’s production of Table Manners is a scrumptious meal of fine British theatre consisting of great acting, excellent directing and snappy dialogue.
It runs from Jan. 23 to 26, Jan. 30 to Feb. 2 with doors opening at 7 p.m. and curtains closing at 7:30 p.m. along with two matinees at 1 p.m. on Jan. 26 and Feb. 2.
Tickets are available at the door or at The Open Book.