Henry And Alice: Into The Wild by Michele Riml

Dates and Venue 19 April - 26 May 2012, Tues at 7:30pm, Mon, Wed –Sat at 8pm, and Wed & Sat matinees at 2pm | Granville Island Stage

Director Andrew McIlroy Set & Lighting Designer Ted Roberts Sound Designer Geoff Hollingshead Costume Designer Kendra Cooper Stage Manager Marion Anderson

Reviewer John Jane

In Artistic Director Bill Millerd’s rather self-congratulatory programme notes, he mentioned that Vancouver based Michele Riml’s Henry and Alice: Into the Wild is one of a pair of premieres mounted by the Artsclub Theatre Company this month. The other being Michael Ignatieff's’ Scar Tissue. It’s certainly worth noting that through its Silver Commissions Project, the Artsclub has been able to promote first public performances by Canadian playwrights.

Riml’s three-handed comedy Henry and Alice: Into the Wild is surely a deserving recipient of the programme. The play recalls Henry and Alice Lane, characters from her previous work Sexy Laundry.

Arguably the best site gag in the show is right at the beginning: Henry (Andrew Wheeler) and Alice (Susinn McFarlen) are standing in Ted Roberts’ realistically ‘woodsy’ campground staging. Henry is kitted-out with outdoor survival gear complete with backpack and hiking boots, while Alice is attired in designer slacks, high heel scandals and towing expensive looking luggage.

Henry and Alice are a middle-aged couple embarking on their first camping vacation. But it seems doubtful if either really wants to be there. Henry has lost his job and is resentful about being pushed into early retirement and believes that vacations under the canvas are to be the future norm. “I’ve played by the rules and now they’ve changed the game” he says angrily of his former employers. After raising three children, Alice now feels it’s her turn to enjoy the finer things of life.

Beverley Elliot as Alice’s free-wheeling sister Diana is more like the fifth wheel. Though, she does bring onto the stage the motorbike that liberates Alice from her “comfort zone” and provides Henry with a target for his curmudgeonly demeanor.

In the hands of Susinn McFarlen and Andrew Wheeler this play imparts some serious issues about an enduring marriage and its bumps in the road. Its appeal lies in the commonality to all couples that have been together for a long time.

Director Andrew McIlroy maintains a lively pace throughout. Ted Roberts’ intriguing lighting creatively tenders a comparison between daylight, dusk and nightfall.

What few problems there are with this show arise from Ms. Riml’s writing. Henry is supposed to be an engineer, yet he seems inept at assembling a simple lightweight tent. Also, Alice can’t get a signal on her cell phone but Henry receives a call from his son the next day.

Into the Wild might be better described as a follow-up to Sexy Laundry rather than a sequel, since it’s intended to stand on its own merits and easily accessible to audiences who missed Riml’s earlier foray. And aside from a few fallback gags (like Alice bringing along the “Camping for Dummies” book) it manages to do just that.

The loudest cheer of the evening was for the front-of-house manager, when, just before the second act, she found it necessary to remind patrons to turn off mobile phones. Someone’s phone went off during the performance and continued for several minutes. I guess patron X didn’t know you can silence a damn phone by hitting the "volume down" button.

© 2012 John Jane