Arts Club Theatre Company
JITTERS by David French

Dates and Venue January 25 – February 25, 2018, Tue–Thu at 7:30pm, Fri & Sat at 8pm, Wed at 1:30pm, and Sat & Sun at 2pm | Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage

Director David Mackay Set Design Ted Roberts Costume Design Mara Gottler Lighting Design Gerald King Sound Design Murray Price Stage Manager Angela Beaulieu

Reviewer John Jane

There is perhaps nothing more foreboding than to have to perform in a public arena. Regardless of whether you just have to stand up and say a few words at a relative’s wedding or appear at the Super Bowl half-time show, butterflies are a normal reaction. Stage actors, of course, are notoriously self-doubting, and that, is the essential premise of Jitters, a backstage comedy by David French.

Jitters is a play-within-the-play. A small professional theatre in Toronto is rehearsing a new play with only a few days before opening night. Just about everyone concerned with the production has a ‘make-or-break’ stake in it.

Robert Ross (Ryan Beil), the playwright, is looking for a follow-up success after a minor triumph of his first play. George Ellsworth (Martin Happer) knows he is going to have to manage his actors’ fragile egos with kid gloves while simultaneously sidestepping the whims of the playwright if the show is to have any success. Jessica Logan (Megan Leitch), the marquee name, is returning to Canada after many years performing on international stages, but after a couple of duds is hoping to revive her career. Patrick Flanagan (Robert Moloney), a journeyman actor is an acute egocentric with a fear of failure and sensitive to criticism. Phil Mastorakis (James Fagan Tait) a stage veteran who suffers from chronic stage fright needs something that will restore his self-belief. Finally, Tom Kent (Kamyar Pazandeh) a rookie actor who harbours delusional designs on being a television star.

Helping to keep the show (the real and the fictional) on track are obstreperous stage manager Nick (Raugi Yu), proficient production designer Peggy (Lauren Bowler) and amenable props girl Susi (Kaitlin Williams).

French wrote the play in three acts but with one intermission (between acts II and III), with the first act taking place on the ‘staged’ set of a comfortable, though hardly elegant, living room. When Ted Roberts’ revolving stage rotates around to the opposite side to reveal a chaotic dressing room, the comedic style changes with the scenery. The first act neatly sets up the discombobulated interactions between the characters with witty dialogue hitting the mark together with well-timed physical comedy. Once the action switches to the dressing room, broad humour is replaced with slapstick.

Director David Mackay’s carefree direction keeps the action free-wheeling along at a quick pace without allowing the manic moments to get beyond control. This mounting of Jitters is set in 1979 Toronto so polyester shirts and platform shoes are featured prominently. Lauren Bowler and Kaitlin Williams managed to look good in Mara Gottler’s period appropriate clothing, but the rest of the cast had a right to feel embarrassed.

By and large the cast worked hard and to varying degrees acquitted themselves well. James Fagan Tait in particular, whose talent is more often silently off stage, gave a believable performance as the uptight and insecure actor Phil – shortcomings he may have observed first –hand as a director. Ryan Beil delivered a uniquely droll performance as the captious playwright. Lauren Bowler and Kaitlin Williams weren’t given enough to do, but whatever they did – they did it well.

Jitters is certainly a real hoot. Even if the cast seemed anxious at times and muddled their lines, they might just have been hamming it up for the role – who would know?

© 2018 John Jane