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THE BLONDE, THE BRUNETTE, AND THE VENGEFUL REDHEAD
by Robert Hewett
Playhouse Theatre Company
Vancouver Playhouse
Jan. 12-Feb. 2
$30-$63
604-873-3311 or www.vancouverplayhouse.com

The latest show at the Playhouse combines fascinating acting with interesting but flawed storytelling in a combination Oprah would love.  Betrayal and redemption, stupid men, noble women, tragic irony, comic caricature and a bravura solo performance add up to an eventful evening in the theatre.

Stratford veteran Lucy Peacock plays all seven characters in Australian playwright Robert Hewett’s tale of suburban housewife Rhonda—the redhead—whose attempt at revenge against the blonde she thinks has stolen her husband goes horribly wrong. 

Without giving away too many surprises, suffice it to say the story rotates around two intersecting circles. We meet Rhonda and her husband Graham, friend and neighbour Linette (the brunette), and the blonde Russian emigrée Tanya, “the minx from Minsk.”  We also get the perspective of the blonde victim’s family and friends: her female lover Alex, her young son Mathew, and an elderly female neighbour.  But who exactly are the victims and who are the perpetrators?  These moral issues ultimately get sideswiped by the uneasy marriage of comedy and melodrama in Hewett’s script under Geordie Johnson’s direction.

The play proceeds in a series of eight monologues, Rhonda’s the first and last.  As each one ends, Peacock steps behind an upstage screen and we watch her in silhouette changing her clothes and her wig to re-emerge as the next character.  Above her dressing area Craig McNaughton’s prosaic projections establish the settings.

Peacock does some wonderful character work transforming from staid Rhonda to floozy Linette, and from a female English doctor to a four-year-old boy.  She utilizes a great vocal repertoire to go with the different looks, and shows a mastery of physical acting, capturing the swaggering drunken husband and ancient palsied neighbour in uncannily exact body language.

Peacock’s portrayal of Graham is remarkable and very funny. What a monstrously egotistical, ridiculously insensitive jerk he is.  The problem is that Rhonda’s story is serious, but it’s impossible to believe that her nuanced character could have stayed married to this cartoon for seventeen years. Graham’s cartoonishishness also prevents us from taking seriously his role in the ethical dynamics of the play.

While the technique of telling Rhonda’s story from the perspective of multiple characters has novelty value, it’s also frustrating.  We learn just enough, for example, about Alex the lesbian doctor to want to know more.  But we never see her again.  And the character who in many ways turns out to be the most important in Rhonda’s life, the redemptive force in the play who resolves the drama in the peculiar final monologue, never appears at all.

Fans of the Playhouse hit one-woman show The Syringa Tree should really like this one, too.

Jerry Wasserman