'Every Little Nookie' by Sunny Drake

World Premiere in the Studio Theatre at the Stratford Festival

David Hou

Joe Szekeres

A world premiere of an unconventional story that, at times, is naughty, hilarious and poignant.

Ya gotta love these world premieres. At least I do because original plays like Sunny Drake’s ‘Every Little Nookie’ will continue to carry forward the fine art of live performance into the twenty-first century.

And it’s a doozy of a story that very slightly weakened near the end.

But first, the humorous play on the words of the title. How often have we heard to look in every little nook of a room if we have misplaced something? That means, we scour the room inch by inch.

My computer underlined ‘nookie’ and said it might be construed as offensive. I knew what it already meant and smiled thinking about where this story could lead me.

Margaret (Marion Adler) and Kenneth (John Koensgen) finally have their comfortable upscale house to themselves after the adopted daughter, Annabel (Rose Tuong) has moved into her own ‘questionable’ rented property downtown. She shares this place with her partner Grace (Khadiljah Roberts-Abdullah), her non-binary friend, Smash (Stephen Jackman-Torkoff) and her friend, Crystal (Veronica Hortiguela), a feminist academic who moonlights as a sex worker. Annabel also strikes up a new relationship with Matt (Richard Lam) a straight, single father.

To support themselves, these four individuals secretly host weekend swingers’ parties for middle-aged suburbanites using Margaret and Kenneth’s home when they are away at the cottage. Unexpectedly returning one night, Margaret and Kenneth walk in on an orgiastic evening in full swing. They’re shocked at first to discover what’s going on, but that initial horror turns to intrigue about this lifestyle.

Sunny Drake’s at times point-blank skewering of traditional values and turning them upside down made me laugh outright loud. As soon as I sat down in the Studio Theatre, the first thing that made me smile was Michelle Tracey’s unique (but I’m not so sure wholesome) setting of an ample king-sized bed resplendent with fluffy pillows and a slide leading down from the second level. I’m wondering if Tracey did intend this double meaning or not. Anyway, I loved it.

Make sure you leave yourself enough time to read the Programme Notes of the conversation between Assistant Director of the production, Philip Geller and Syrus Marcus Ware. For me, this information introduced some thematic issues that I kept in the back of my mind as I watched the story unfold.

A comment caught my attention:

“This play [Every Little Nookie] is exciting, in part because you see something that you don’t always see, which is that the parents are in the role of learners. This intergenerational learning needs to be a part of the world of building a different future.”

Although I’m not a parent, I hope that Syrus Ware was also referring to those present who may not be parents themselves but want to learn more about these attitudinal changes that many don’t hold for whatever reason. Joan Rivers once stated humour can often assist us in dealing with drama and tension. In this production, the personal learning came through the in-your-face elements of humour that beautifully countered some of the archaic attitudes I might hold regarding the change. I mentioned earlier about the use of the slide down into the bed and all its connotations.

Reference to the pandemic in which we find ourselves was also skewered. At the top of the show, Margaret and Kenneth are playing an electronic game of Scrabble in bed with each other on their individual I Pads. A couple who has been married for so long can’t look at each other in bed but turn to their electronics to connect. Amusing but also a sad commentary about the state of marriage.

While focusing on some extremely uproarious moments, ted witzel’s considerate and concerned direction never swayed from the fact we are dealing with real people here. Never mind whether they fit the traditional conventional norms of gender or not. There was strong evidence of this in the second act when Smash feels as if their ‘chosen family’ of Annabel and Grace were leaving them out of important decisions. Jackman-Torkoff’s fine performance work strongly resonated throughout his physical stance. I felt defeat, sadness, disappointment, and frustration emanating from them.

Marion Adler and John Koensgen are five stars in their performances as the parents who are learning about this new understanding of the world and how to realize it’s part of who we are going forward. Without spoiling what happens, Adler’s comic timing remains top-notch, and it must be seen especially in her scenes with Robert King as the dim-witted Phoenix. Koensgen’s double entendre discussions with sex worker Crystal are memorable. As the non-binary friend, Smash, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff delivers a grounded, credible performance of a uniquely different person who deserves to be heard and to be respected. They too have a solid sense of comic timing.

Rose Tuong, Richard Lam, Veronica Hortiguela and Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah remain consistently solid and believable throughout the play. What worked strongly for me was playwright Drake’s juxtaposition of the so-called ‘normal experience’ Rose had in her burgeoning relationship with Matt compared to the ‘abnormal relationship’ of living with Crystal, Smash and Grace. This side-by-side placement is extremely important as both kinds of relationships for the playwright hold equal value and worth. Whether or not audience members may agree or disagree, these unique and caring relationships are part of the way now in which we live our lives.

Just a slight quibble regarding the text. It appears just too much like a ‘situation comedy’ ending where it appears everything is going to be fine. This company of convincing actors spent the better part of two and a half hours revealing societal issues that need further re-examination and reflection. The issues these artists raise earnestly for awareness cannot simply be concluded in a textbook format sitcom ending.

Approximately running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.

The performance runs to October 1 at the Festival’s Studio Theatre, 34 George Street East. For tickets, www.stratfordfestival.ca or call 1-800-567-1600.

Directed by ted witzel
Set Designer: Michelle Tracey
Costume Designer: Joshua Quinlan
Lighting Designer: Jareth Li
Composer and Sound Designer: Dasha Plett
Producer: David Auster

Cast: Rose Tuong, Veronica Hortiguela, Khadiljah Roberts-Abdullah, John Koensgen, Marion Adler, Richard Lam, Robert King, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff

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