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'Liars at a Funeral' by Sophia Fabiilli

Now onstage at the Springer Theatre, 185 South Street, Thousand Islands Playhouse, Gananoque

(Photo Credit: JPG Photography. Pictured L-R: Deborah Drakeford, Courtenay Stevens, Justin Otto, Lucy Hill, Nora McLellan)

Joe Szekeres

‘Director Krista Jackson puts a whole lotta ‘fun’ in this dysfunctional family dynamics. LIARS AT A FUNERAL is a tremendous hoot. My face and cheeks hurt from laughing so hard. A perfect way to begin the summer season at Thousand Islands Playhouse.’

No family is perfect, and the wackiness of matriarch Mavis’s (Nora McLellan) bunch is a testament to that.
They’re also a hell of a lot of fun to watch in Sophia Fabiilli’s wickedly slick, farcical script of double entendres, puns and references that made me laugh so hard my face and cheeks hurt.

This family has a supposed ‘curse’ on it. Twin girls in the family (who once were close) have become distant from each other through divorce and years of silence. Mavis has had enough of this estrangement. She concocts an idea to stage her death to bring her family together. Weird? Most assuredly. Wacko? Absolutely.

But there’s more lying underneath Mavis’s so-called plan.

And that’s not only where the fun lies.

It begins when we learn in the programme that four cast members play dual roles.

I’m doing my best not to give away too much as that would destroy what the Playhouse website calls: “bending the truth in all of the scripted ridiculous deceits.”

Evelyn’s (Deborah Drakeford) twin sister passed away a year ago. Evelyn arrives at the funeral home with her friend Wayne (Courtenay Stevens). Believing her mother, Mavis, is dead, Evelyn brings Wayne to give her moral support. After her sister's funeral the previous year, mother and daughter did not part on good terms, which haunts Evelyn now.

The plot gets thicker.

Evelyn’s ex-husband, Frank (Stevens), shows up for hilarious reasons that will soon become apparent. Their twin daughters, Dee Dee and Mia (both played by Lucy Hill) have been estranged. Mia (the extrovert) cast her twin Dee Dee (the introvert) as the Gravedigger in a high school production of ‘Hamlet’ years ago. Things did not go well then, and the ensuing fiasco has never been resolved.

We also meet Quint (Justin Otto), the assistant to the sex-craved Funeral Home Director, Leorah (Drakeford). Otto also plays Cam (Mia’s rather oddly strange partner), who would hug people instead of shaking hands when meeting them for the first time.

Got all of this straightened out?

You will be at the end. In the meantime, sit back and enjoy the zaniness of it all playing out before you.

Sue LePage’s stunning set and Louise Guinand’s aptly lit funeral lighting create a genuine-looking funeral home spanning the entire Springer stage. Every inch of space is used, from a regal-looking purple carpeting (so much purple) to appropriate props one might find in a funeral home, right down to the angel wings behind the lights. For some eerie reason, LePage and Guinand have magically created a sense of death lingering in the air. There is a coffin upstage centre where ‘Mavis’ is supposed to be resting in a closed casket. Lyon Smith has selected perfect pre-show recordings of orchestral hymns that one might hear upon entering the place.

Director Krista Jackson is enormously responsible for keeping the pace moving in a farce with her cast. She never allows the audience to think of how ridiculous the situation is. The actors must believe the truth in the moment and that it is happening. In the process, we, the audience, buy what is happening before us.

They succeed on all accounts. Gloriously.

The timing in the production of a farce is of the essence. On this opening night, these five are true pros. What’s also impressive is how quickly these five characters leave the stage, change and reappear as the other character, all within minutes.

There’s also talk about some stage magic that directors might incorporate. Jackson has done that on the Springer stage. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything about the performance. All I will say is one of the actors exits and then enters as the other character within a matter of seconds. Watch for it. I won’t tell you where it happens.

The cast is super on this sold-out opening night. The five of them are confirmed pros who instinctively understand the impeccable art of comic timing, whether how to deliver a joke or set it up without the moment becoming so obvious.

Nora McLellan is feisty as matriarch Mavis. She rolls around the floor and climbs in and out of caskets with amusing poise and finesse. McLellan’s periodic smile indicates that she’s up to something in the style of Lucy Ricardo.

The other four actors play characters who become dramatic foils of each other.

Deborah Drakeford’s sexy, slinky Leorah contrasts beautifully with the practical and realistic Evelyn. Lucy Hill plays two opposing sisters with aplomb. Courtenay Stevens's portrayal of two differing men in Wayne and Frank sometimes left me trying to catch my breath because I was laughing so hard. Justin Otto’s nice guy Quint wants to move ahead in the funeral business. His Cam becomes such a loveable doofus that we begin to accept that hugging is his way of defusing any tension in meeting people.

And Another Thought: ‘Liars at a Funeral’ is the second play I’ve seen in the last few days that has helped me to deal with the loss of my mother two weeks ago.

The first – Haley McGee’s ‘Age is a Feeling’ now onstage at Soulpepper – is a continued reminder of the precious gift of life we all have while we are on this earth.

‘Liars at a Funeral’ allowed me to laugh in the face of death. And that’s okay. My late mother would have been joining me in fits of laughter as well. Thank you to this entire cast and Thousand Islands Playhouse for the gift of laughter.

What a terrific start to the summer and fall season this year at Thousand Islands Playhouse. ‘Liars at a Funeral’ is worth the trip to Gananoque.

Running time: approximately two hours with one interval/intermission.

‘Liars at a Funeral’ runs until June 22 at the Springer Theatre, Thousand Islands Playhouse, 185 South Street, Gananoque. For tickets, call (613) 382-7020 or visit 1000islandsplayhouse.com.

THOUSAND ISLANDS PLAYHOUSE presents
‘Liars At a Funeral’ by Sophia Fabiilli
Directed by Krista Jackson
Assistant Director: Brynn Godenir
Set & Costume Designer: Sue LePage
Lighting Designer: Louise Guinand
Stage Manager: Loralie Pollard
Assistant Stage Manager: Emlyn vanBruinswaardt

Performers: Deborah Drakeford, Lucy Hill, Nora McLellan, Justin Otto, Courtenay Stevens.

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