by Paul Ledoux and John Roby
Gateway Theatre and
Western Canada Theatre
Gateway Theatre, Richmond
March 30-April 15
Summer theatre has come early to Richmond.
For the final mainstage show of its winter season, the Gateway is presenting Paul Ledoux and John Roby’s mini-musical Hot Flashes, set on the deck of a summer resort. Light as air and about as substantial, this co-production comes from Kamloops, directed by Western Canada Theatre’s David Ross. Though it offers flashes of amusement, the temperature rarely rises above tepid.
Things have gone stale for Janet (Lisa Bayliss) and Harry (Ari Solomon) after 21 years together, so they’ve come to this resort for a dirty weekend to try to revive their marriage. He’s a businessman in the midst of merger negotiations and can’t keep away from his cellphone. She’s in the early stages of menopause, which aggravates her general sense of uselessness and their barren sex life. “You’re not depressed,” he sings, “it’s biochemical.”
When their bratty 14-year-old daughter Ally (Melissa Young) joins them, mother-daughter tensions add to the mix. But I don’t think I’m giving too much away to reveal that all these rifts will be healed in the end with very little trouble at all. That’s part of the summer theatre formula guarantee.
Musically, the show is as thin as its plot. Vanessa LeBourdais’ piano is the only instrument accompanying Roby’s serviceable but unmemorable score and Ledoux’s largely generic but sometimes enjoyably clever lyrics.
The best number is Janet’s title-song tango, sung with panache by Bayliss, whose strong voice and solid delivery are also put to good use when she sings about her daughter: “my baby’s disappeared, she’s turned into a teenager, they’ve left a monster in her place.” Young does a nice job performing sarcastic Ally’s songs of mild teenage rebellion.
But a musical with only three characters and minimal accompaniment demands very strong voices and Solomon’s isn’t one. A good actor, he can get away with groaning Harry’s cute song about being hung over, but every other number challenges his vocal abilities. And he shouldn’t even try to dance.
Dramatically, the play seems altogether half-hearted. After two decades together, Janet knows almost nothing about Harry’s business and he seems unaware that she speaks fluent German. No wonder their marriage is in trouble! Sure, it’s comedy, but that’s just lazy writing. Ditto for the one-sided telephone conversations and the stage time spent on Harry’s doing a crossword puzzle—the theatrical equivalents of watching paint dry.
Shows like Mom’s the Word 2: Unhinged prove that a small-scale Canadian comic musical can tackle issues like menopausal marriage and the parenting of teenagers with depth, originality and theatrical pizzazz. And the Gateway’s Studio B regularly provides Richmond audiences with challenging theatre. There’s no reason why its mainstage shouldn’t offer programming hotter and flashier than this.