THE ANGER IN ERNEST AND ERNESTINE by Leah Cherniak, Robert Morgan and Martha Ross, directed by Cherniak, with Rick Roberts and Jenny Young. Presented by Theatre Columbus at Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson). Runs to June 5, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $23-$30, Sunday pwyc. 416-504-7529. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
I didn't see Theatre Columbus's The Anger In Ernest And Ernestine in its acclaimed original 1987 production or its 1990 remount, but judging from this new production, things haven't changed much in the way of relationships and expressing anger.
Dr. Phil and zillions of self-help books later, it's still as stomach-hurtingly funny and insightful as it must have been back then. After moving into their cramped, overheated basement apartment, newlyweds Ernest ( Rick Roberts ) and Ernestine ( Jenny Young ) begin realizing they're pretty different. One's orderly, the other's haphazard. One smokes (occasionally), the other doesn't. Over the course of two entertaining hours, their differences balloon, and they're soon reduced to angry, confused strangers capable of destruction.
This is largely a director's play, and co-creator Leah Cherniak pulls out all the stops. Good use is made of clown-like elements, from the mismatched clothes the two wear to their various individual turns to establish character. Roberts's beautifully paced obsessive-compulsive morning cereal routine is hysterical, as is Young's harried woman-on-the-go, who so impatiently stamps her foot to fit into a shoe that she becomes a flamenco dancer.
The play's letter-writing scene - in which the couple angrily compose a letter after one of them has been hurt outside - is easily one of the funniest scenes in all of Canadian theatre.
But there's much tenderness and hurt in the piece as well, as when they attempt to diffuse their anger by re-enacting their marriage vows.
Roberts and Young are beautifully matched, the one repressing his inner rock star with a conservative exterior, the other impulsive and flighty. Their nervous innocence at the outset is as believable as their later bursts of anger and their final defeated exhaustion.
Glenn Davidson 's set deserves special mention. The basement apartment is dominated by a furnace with a mind of its own, and a temperamental staircase. But it's also framed by two brick walls (get the metaphor?) through which the two individually emerge or retire. The walls are connected by a union-suggesting arch.
Small detail, perhaps, but another illustration of the care put into this intelligent, smart comedy that should still be kicking around in another 18 years.