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Photo credit: Javier Sotres
What’s the worst thing a theatre critic could do? Leave a show at intermission then review it anyway, pretending you didn’t? That would be right up there. How about this: arrive at the theatre at 7:55 for what you think is an 8 o’clock curtain but turns out to have been a 7:30 start, watch the rest of the show, then review it anyway.
That was me last night, sneaking as quietly as I could into the PAL Studio to see the remainder of Comfort Cottages, a new play by Jane Clayton and Judy Ginn Walchuk that had started almost a half-hour earlier. And this is me today, offering a partial review of what I saw of this sweet comedy, since—with the insane amount of theatre going on right now in Vancouver—I won’t have another chance to see the whole thing.
Having missed the exposition and the set-up, I’m unsure of some of the details. But what I saw reminded me a good deal of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Katherine (Merrilyn Gann) has inherited the Comfort Cottages Motel from a relative and invites three of her mutually aging women friends to stay there with her. Katherine and Belle (Marlee Walchuk), New Agey Eva (Suzanne Ristic) and swanning dancer Flo (Annabel Kershaw) are eventually joined by an equally motley group of older men: lawyer Adam (Steve James), Roger (Dave Campbell), truckers Big Ed (Keith Martin Gordey) and Simon (Terence Kelly). Nosy neighbour Tom (Vince Metcalfe), snooping around playing a tiny guitar and talking to his late wife’s ashes, is the outlier.
Despite some flirting with caricature and sometimes … well, extravagant acting, the play and Anna Hagan’s Western Gold Theatre production are charming. The characters’ individual crises and group conflicts are suitably resolved in the bittersweet comic ending, and along the way we get to enjoy some of the city’s best veteran performers having obvious fun. Kudos, too, to costume designer Naomi Lazarus for Kershaw’s endless supply of great outfits and Kelly’s nicely understated crossdressing garb.
It’s hard not to be aware of the copacetic congruity between the play, its senior artists and the venue. Many of the people involved in this show live at PAL, the place itself a kind of miracle in real estate crazed Vancouver, allowing older performing artists who wouldn’t normally have the means to rent or buy in such an attractive and otherwise expensive downtown site to do so—and live amid a mutually supportive community of artists like themselves.
Many of us who have hit an age that we realize brings us closer to the end than the beginning have fantasized about finding a place where we could approach the Big Sleep alongside some of our besties. Comfort Cottages nicely plays out one such scenario.