Arts Club Theatre

The Optimists

Dates 8 February 3 March 2007 Venue Granville Island Stage

Reviewer John Jane

For those who watch too much television there is an unavoidable commercial that reassures would-be visitors to Las Vegas “What happens here, stays here.” While some may wonder what does actually “happen” - the message was not lost on writer, Morwyn Brebner.

Brebner recognizes that when folks find themselves in the city that panders to excess, inhibitions are freely abandoned and any common sense that may be occasionally practiced is completely forsaken. Experience however, teaches us that there is no such thing as a consequence-free party, no matter what the Las Vegas commercial promises and an impulsive elopement with a someone you hardly know might seem like fun but in actuality it’s more likely to be a first-class ticket to Disasterville.

But that is what The Optimists is really about! As one of the play’s characters reveals in a final scene rant, being optimistic isn’t about knowing things will improve: it is believing that things will get better despite all evidence to the contrary.

Morwyn Brebner’s black comedy follows the tribulations of two Canadian couples on a weekend in Vegas. Chick and "Teenie" (short for Christine) are there for a quick chapel wedding. He's a salesman with a Toyota dealership, and she's the showroom receptionist. (Perhaps there was some empathy emanating from the playwright’s time working as a receptionist at a Cadillac dealership.)

For Chick, (John Murphy) a forty-ish happy-go-lucky guy who is “in a programme” for alcohol abuse, gambling addiction or perhaps even both, it will be his third marriage. Teenie (Anastasia Phillips) is much younger, with an exuberant, giggly Goldie Hawn persona – she is trying marriage for the first time.

Doug (Scott Bellis) and Margie (Jillian Fargey), both doctors, are dealing with the imbroglio of what appears to be a loveless marriage. Doug is cynically philosophical; Margie (who appears on stage much later) is an expert at the bitchy putdown who has put little into her own marriage and received even less in return.

The first act opens with Teenie, Chick, and Doug indulging in a few drinks in a pretty standard hotel suite on the Vegas strip. Teenie and Chick are sharing the same armchair describing to Doug how they first met. "He grabbed my ass! On the stairs! He was showing off for the mechanics," Teenie exudes coyly, as if Chick’s obsession with her derriere were a tribute to her womanhood.

When Teenie is forced to retire to the bedroom as an apparent result of over indulgence at the “All-U-Can-Eat” buffet, Chick and Doug are left alone to play out their history together, often alluding to a dubious bond forged back in their childhood. There was a lot of dialogue during this scene and not all of it had a clear point. I did sense some members of the audience squirming in their seats during this part.

I personally felt that the two women had the more interesting characters, yet much of the dialogue was disposed to explore the two men. The tension certainly heightened when Doug's wife Margie shows up unexpectedly. Of the four players, Jillian Fargey injected the most dynamics into this ensemble piece.

After the production of The Diary of Anne Frank in September, 2005, the combination of the Arts Club, director Rachel Ditor and talented actor Anastasia Phillips has again proved to be a winning collaboration.

© 2007 John Jane