photo by: Joshua Meles
TALKING HEADS by Alan Bennett, directed by Mat Howard (Alumnae, 70 Berkeley). To November 29. Pwyc-$20. 416-364-4170.
Alan Bennett's Talking Heads, a series of witty, nuanced monologues, are character studies originally written for BBC-TV.
The figures are finely painted portraits of people with different sorts of emotional tics, people who unwittingly reveal things about themselves and who sometimes realize their true natures by play's end.
In the right hands, the monologues also work well onstage, which is the case with two of the three pieces in the Alumnae Theatre's production.
In A Lady Of Letters, Irene Ruddock is a busybody who only makes contact with the outside world by scribbling accusing notes and the occasional poison-pen letter to neighbours and others in the community. Actor Dia Frid begins slowly, not uncovering much of Irene, but as the character grows increasingly distraught and tightly wound up, the performer gives us a compassion view of the woman.
Her Big Chance, featuring Chantale Groulx, is the least convincing of the episodes. The innocent Lesley, a bit player in films, finds herself cast in an action/soft porn movie without realizing what she's gotten into.
Bennett paints Lesley as a curious mix of the naïve and the sexual, alternately surprised about the circumstances in which she finds herself and aware of men's interest in her, but Groulx's tentative performance, coupled with a stop-and-start delivery and the occasional dropped line, keeps us from caring about Lesley.
The best of the pieces is the last, Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet, thanks to the rich work of Nonnie Griffin as the title character. A woman who supports her ill, housebound brother, Miss Fozzard discovers in a new chiropodist a surprising outlet for her instinctive care-giving. Adept at bringing to life the people we view briefly in Miss Fozzard's world, Griffin constantly adds telling details to this biography of a lonely woman for whom shoes form the basis of a unique and liberating relationship.
Director Mat Howard understands the sense of isolation that underlies all three characters, showing the points where each grows during the course of her monologue. Why, though, he keeps actors onstage for the monologues that follow their own isn't clear; Groulx can lie down after she's done, but Frid keeps shifting uncomfortably in her chair.