LARRY'S PARTY by Richard Ouzounian and Marek Norman, directed by Robin Phillips, with Brent Carver, Barbara Barsky, Michelle Fisk, Susan Gilmour, Jane Johanson, Gary Krawford, Julain Molnar, Mike Nadajewski and Jack Wetherall. Presented by Canadian Stage/National Arts Centre/Manitoba Theatre Centre at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front East). Runs to February 3, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday 1:30 pm, Saturday 2 pm. $20-$75, Monday pwyc. 416-368-3110. Rating: NN
an ordinary life can be pretty boring, theatrically speaking, as the musical version of Carol Shields' Larry's Party demonstrates. The nuances in Shields' novel are almost entirely lost in Richard Ouzounian and Marek Norman's adaptation, and it's the strength of Brent Carver as Larry and of the women who surround him that give drama to the piece.A floral designer by training, a garden maze creator by inclination, the Winnipeg-born Larry keeps wondering about his commonplace nature as he analyzes one relationship after another. In the novel, Shields emphasizes some unexpected aspects of Larry's life, but Ouzounian mostly skims the skin from the narrative and doesn't go underneath. Norman's forgettable melodies usually match the bland beiges and greys favoured in Janice Lindsay's costume designs.
Still, a few of the songs, mostly those for the women in Larry's life, define characters sharply, including the music-hall number about his mother (Jane Johanson) and those sung by his two wives (Susan Gilmour and Julain Molnar) and his lover (Barbara Barsky, splendidly playing against type).
It's these actors, along with Carver's increasingly self-aware Larry and Michelle Fisk as his humorous, no-nonsense sister, who provide the show's energy, much of it in the second act. Carver throbs with humanity whenever he opens his mouth, but the other male characters are only ciphers.
Director Robin Phillips moves the action along briskly, if occasionally distractingly. The key problem is that Ouzounian and Norman haven't figured out how to spotlight a figure who sees himself in the shadows. Their adaptation adds further distance to the already cool emotions of Shields' story.