THE TORCH-BEARERS by George Kelly, directed by David Savoy, with Cynthia Ashperger, John Blakey, Patti Kazmer, Linda Mae Nowlan, Michael Posthumus, Jody Hewston and Anne Van Wijk. Presented by World Miracle Theatre and the Graduate Centre for Study of Drama at the Robert Gill Theatre (214 College). Runs to December 3, Thursday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2 pm. $12, Sunday pwyc, stu/srs $10. 978-7986. Rating: NN
The special skill that can make a success of bad acting is barely in evidence in The Torch-Bearers, American playwright George Kelly's 1922 period piece about a little-theatre troupe composed of upper-class twits.We get views of the rehearsal, the backstage comedy and the aftermath of the amateur production, but little sense of what actually makes this show funny -- and I mean Kelly's work as well as the play-within-the-play. Much of the problem is the broad style encouraged by director David Savoy, neither realistic nor effectively stylized -- dialogue is spoken as if the words were a punchline, and arms are aflutter to convey emotion.
The central episode at the theatre, buoyed by physical and verbal comedy, is the predecessor of more recent works like Noises Off. Requiring those onstage to use an intentionally wooden style of melodrama, it piles mishap upon mishap as the company literally fails to get its act together.
There's the occasional smile in this scene, but the whole piece requires an ensemble of performers that here never coalesces. If there's tripping in a production of this sort, it should be physical and intentional rather than a flubbing of lines and momentary gaps between one speech and the next. Fast-paced comedy can't be played this way.