— Production photo
COCKTAILS AT PAM’S
Cleaning the bathroom, getting fresh flowers, procuring that special cheese. The stress of hosting a house party can make the undertaking seem ludicrous.
Figuring out the best time to arrive, trying not to talk too much, trying not to talk too little. The strain of attending a house party can seem equally daft.
So why the heck do humans bother? Evidently, Stewart Lemoine has asked himself that very question and been hard pressed for an answer. Consequently, in 1986 he penned Cocktails at Pam’s, an outlandish send-up of uptight manners and inane conversation, set in Ontario during the era of Tom Jones—the singer, not the novel.
The fastidiously house-proud Pam has been hosting boring house parties every month, particularly pleased with her collection of napkin rings. Everything must be done just right; spontaneity must be banished.
Pam’s distant but obliging husband Julius mostly takes refuge behind the bar and mixes strange concoctions. The skittish maid Rita fears Pam’s wrath; she can barely manage to respond to the doorbell.
By a fluke, Pam has met a semi-famous actress who is playing Cordelia in King Lear, staged nearby at Stratford. When she is the first guest to arrive, Julius stupidly assumes Miss Dallas must be a beauty queen from Texas. No, her name is Cynthia Dallas. This thespian character could be some sly dig at Cynthia Dale, the Canadian actress who first appeared at Stratford in 1983 (and later married Peter Mansbridge in 1998), but we’re never really sure.
Lemoine keeps adding goofy characters, willy nilly. An artsy bohemian couple in black can’t stop necking passionately after he fatuously explains to Cynthia how she ought to play her role in King Lear. Estelle, a divorcee in a red Chinese-style dress, launches into a rant against green peppers, so upsetting Pam that Estelle is banished from the house.
Pam’s brother likes to make bad sketches of people’s noses. An insecure and stupid young woman named Lili is embarrassed by her lack of intellect. “I’m finding it very difficult to put a finger on the tone of this party,” says Max, a doctor, over-dressed in a formal white dinner jacket.
While Pam remains in the kitchen supervising the preparation of some tiny canapés as the only food for her starving guests, everyone else agrees to play some non-competitive charades with the caveat that they must agree not to enjoy themselves. When Pam re-enters to find Cynthia seemingly giving birth on the sofa, nobody explains it’s a charades enactment for The Birth of a Nation.
Julian makes more ridiculous drinks. Eventually our hostess faints in despair, having discovered precious hors d’oeuvres spilled on the carpet. The playwright proceeds to have Pam awaken as an insane and aggressive woman with an archaic Scottish accent. Now dressed in a frilly nightie, Pam chases everyone off the stage rather like a tiger chases away the hysterical safari labourers in an old Tarzan movie.
Everyone re-assembles after Pam has fled the house and been picked up by a trucker on the freeway, presumably never to be seen again. Absurdly, the party continues. Inexplicably, a semblance of a romance blossoms between the brother and Cynthia. The smug, artsy couple keep necking. The maid finally gets a drink. Say it again, Max.
Sebastian Archibald’s pained expressions as the long-suffering hubbie Julian are the most consistently enjoyable aspect of this production. The show is directed, with varying volume levels, by Stephen Heatley, a former Albertan who first saw Lemoine’s work at the first Edmonton Fringe Festival in 1982. Lemoine’s work remains hugely popular in Edmonton where he has written sixty plays and grown a theatre troupe chiefly devoted to his work. Lemoine was Artistic Director of Teatro la Quindicina from 1982-2007; now he’s their resident playwright.
Cocktails at Pam’s is more bizarre than funny. Nothing wrong with that. The stilted house party without dinner, after all, is bizarre, so Lemoine resolves to make it downright wacko. One could argue that sort of exaggeration is non-Canadian, but think Trailer Park Boys or the McKenzie Brothers. We can do wacko.
As this ensemble refines its timing, comedy will increase and some of the mawkish satire could abate; ideally some semi-believable, or at least likeable, characters could emerge. It was rough on opening night, but weirdly memorable.
Novice producers Maryannne Renzetti (as Pam) and Yoshie Bancroft (as Cynthia) deserve credit for giving Vancouverites a chance to see what the Edmontonian fuss is about.