by David King
October 20-November 5
Comedy is a funny thing. The difference between a line that kills and one that clangs can be infinitesimal, a tiny flaw in the delicate balance where incongruity, deflation and surprise meet vocal inflection, facial expression, body language and timing.
The new production of David King’s Life Skills, directed by Brenda Leadlay at North Van’s Presentation House, is filled with moments obviously meant to be funny that somehow just miss. The offbeat comic intelligence of King’s script and its two attractive performers ultimately deliver, but still leave you feeling there should have been more.
The show has a two-part format. On a large video screen the world’s nerdiest host (Toby Berner) is interviewing a woman (Kathleen Duborg) on a tacky community cable show about the Advanced Life Skills course she’s offering. Clearly, neither of them has the slightest such skill. Each of their attempts at witty, sincere or informative conversation ends in an awkward silence that introduces a staged vignette, performed live by Berner and Duborg, illustrating a particular life skill.
In “Fitting In” he lectures her, in a car on the way to a dinner, on all the things she must not do when they get there. At the beach, in “Being Connected,” he tries to break her of the cell phone habit to which she’s as addicted as a crackhead to her rock. “When to Stop Eating” has him, in a fey French accent, waxing existential at dinner while she compulsively scarfs down his linguini. In “Avoiding Religion” he’s a Jehovah’s Witness who comes to her door and gets caught up in her fashion crisis. “You’re a Godsend,” she gushes, when he solves it for her.
The actors transform from one set of eccentric characters to another during the video intervals with the help of an amazing range of wigs and Olga Grikis’ delightful costumes. Berner, the funnier of the two, mostly plays the straight man but gets to show his comic chops as an apoplectic husband who thinks his car has been towed. Generally though, the bigger and broader characters are the least successful.
Maybe it’s because King originally wrote Life Skills as a vehicle for himself and Nicola Cavendish. During certain scenes I couldn’t help thinking what a meal Cavendish would have made of the character whereas Duborg’s treatment was interesting but never hilarious.
Duborg does her best work, and Berner his too, with the quirky Woody Allenish material rather than the laugh-out-loud funny stuff. And they save their very best for last: a sweet, low key scene where a soft-spoken Southern tourist is accosted at a bus stop by a gentle homeless man promoting the virtues of Vancouver, and a funny and tender barroom rendezvous where talk show host and guest get to dance the life skills waltz.