The newlywed game

HE ANGER IN ERNEST AND ERNESTINE, by Robert Morgan, Martha Ross and Leah Cherniak, directed by Ingrid Keenan, with Tabitha.

HE ANGER IN ERNEST AND ERNESTINE, by Robert Morgan, Martha Ross and Leah Cherniak, directed by Ingrid Keenan, with Tabitha Keast, Scott Moore and Jane McGregor. Presented by Rhino Productions at the Poor Alex Theatre. July 8 and 12 at 1:30 pm, July 9 and 13 at 6 pm, July 11 at 7:30 pm, July 14 at 4:30 pm, July 15 at 10:30 pm. Rating: NNNNN

History turns back on itself when The Anger In Ernest And Ernestine opens at the Poor Alex on Saturday. The 1986 show was one of the early hits for Theatre Columbus, and now it’s providing a boost for a younger theatre company, Rhino Productions.

The tale of a pair of newlyweds whose relationship goes down the toilet — or, in this instance, into the furnace — is vibrantly funny and disturbingly real for many couples who have trouble acknowledging and partially melding their individual personality quirks.

And did I mention that the characters are clowns at heart and in action, figures who play with the audience and feed off its energy?

“As clowns, the pair initially are all innocence and lack the sophistication to be able to understand and solve their emotional difficulties,” suggests actor Tabitha Keast. “Ernest is pragmatic, logical and slow, while Ernestine is emotional, intuitive, excitable and enthusiastic. She plays chirpy Miss Mary Sunshine to his stoic boy scout leader.”

Keast and director Ingrid Keenan collaborated on a fine bring-your-own-venue show, Juan For The Road, in the 97 Fringe, and a year later had their first go at Ernest And Ernestine with actor Scott Moore. It won awards in the U of T Drama Festival.

In this current incarnation, they’re joined by puppeteer/actor Jane McGregor, who plays the malevolent furnace in the characters’ basement-level apartment, a tension-filled setting designed to unravel even the strongest of relationships.

The actors also relied on clown input from one of Toronto’s finest, Dean Gilmour. At one point in rehearsal Moore found himself talking gibberish to the chicken into which Keast had transformed herself.

“I’ll never be too embarrassed to try anything in front of a director again,” laughs Keast.

“But there’s more at work here than the clown directive of breaking down the fourth wall,” adds Keast.

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