The Guild’s new production of Dedication by Terrence McNally is an entertaining and thought-provoking night out.
Adding more zip to the evening is how the play is about a struggling community theatre in a small town. It will strike a chord – and a few laughs – for anyone who’s been involved in any kind of Whitehorse community group.
Dedication is about Captain Lou and Miss Jessie’s Magic Theatre for Children of All Ages, which performs in a dismal strip mall in upstate New York. Lou (Eric Epstein) and Jessie (Roseann Stuckless) used to have big-city theatrical ambitions, but are now in the trough of a mid-career crisis. Highlighting this is the return from rehab of Jessie’s estranged daughter Ida (Eliane Cloutier), who is a popular, stadium-filling pop star. The troupe’s technical director Arnold (Jody Woodland) provides the third point to Lou and Jessie’s community group love triangle.
Combine all this with the cancer-ridden, cantankerous and rich old lady who owns an empty old Vaudeville theatre the troupe would like to occupy (Annabelle, by Mary Sloan), and her beefcake chauffeur (George Maratos) and you have all the ingredients you need for a night out.
The dialogue is snappy with plenty of great one-liners, as you would expect from a play by Terrence McNally. He won all those Tonys, Emmys and other awards for a reason. The direction is also well done, thanks to veteran Saskatchewan director Ian C. Nelson.
Many of the best lines come from Annabelle, who shares a flair for memorable lines in the tradition of female villains such as Marie Antoinette or Cruella de Vil. When Lou goes on about what theatre can do for the community, she demands to know what the community has ever done for her. Same for saving the whales. “What has a whale ever done for me?” she asks.
The dialogue explores some sensitive topics with its humour, including jokes about crack, rehab, age, death and cancer. As a cancer survivor I tend not to be a big fan of chemotherapy humour, but the play delivers them well. Part of Dedication’s attraction is that it explores some uncomfortable topics.
Dedication is also a paean to amateur theatre. There are plenty of inside jokes that cognoscenti will enjoy, plus some scenes that will bring back some fond and possibly cringe-worthy memories of your high school Shakespeare class.
The play makes a surprising twist near the end, distilling all the banter on the value of community theatre into a single, chilling question. The community theatre enthusiasts are presented with an opportunity wrapped in a moral dilemma. “Just what would you do to ensure a pet project continued?” is how Nelson sums it up in the director’s notes.
You’ll have to go see it to find out what that question was, how the characters answered it and, perhaps, think about what your community group would have done in the same situation.
Dedication is playing Wednesdays to Saturdays until Dec. 6, and you can get tickets at Whitehorse Motors or at the door. Showtime is 8 p.m. and more details are posted on guildhall.ca.
Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. You can follow him on Channel 9’s “Yukonomist” show or Twitter @hallidaykeith