A Comedy of Obsession

When the Guild Theatre’s artistic director, Katherine McCallum, was choosing this year’s season, she may not have known playwright Nicky Silver was about to hit the big time.

After two decades of writing successfully for off-off-Broadway, then off-Broadway, Silver will finally penetrate the Great White Way this month with his newest work, The Lyons.

“I love that our show, The Food Chain, is opening the same month that he’s actually appearing on Broadway. What great timing, and what a great pick for the season,” says Sarah Rodgers, who is directing the Guild production that opens Thursday, April 12.

“He’s got a really fabulous, dark humour to him. He’s a gay playwright, so he’s got it kind of in the world of Oscar Wilde, but I would say it’s much more modern, a little dirtier than Wilde, but it’s also as absurd as [fellow gay American playwright] Christopher Durang .”

Silver’s farce about obsession and body image revolves around five disparate characters whose lives intersect dramatically and hilariously in the course of a 24-hour period.

“All the characters are extremely self-obsessed and extremely narcissistic. But there’s also a sympathy to them as well, so as an audience member we can still care for them while we laugh at their self-obsessions.”

Written in three scenes, the play begins the night Amanda, a neurotic poet played by RebeccaWhitcher, decides to call a crisis hot line because her husband has been missing for two weeks of their three-week marriage.

At the other end of the line is Bea (played by Vanessa Marshak)—Rodgers calls her a “typically Jewish matron”—who proudly boasts of her “intensive” six-hour training in crisis intervention.

“Bea is really much more interested in talking about herself than in helping Amanda.”

The two females dominate the first of the play’s three scenes until the end, when the missing husband, Ford (Stephen McGovern), suddenly materializes, complete with a guilty secret.

“In Scene 2, we meet our most outlandish, outrageous, clownish character, and that’s Otto (Mike Ellis),” Rodgers explains.

“We also meet a beautiful model named Serge (Stephen Dunbar-Edge). Serge is getting a little long in the tooth, but he is still, as he always says, ‘strikingly good-looking.'”

Otto, it transpires, has been stalking Serge, hoping to re-ignite the flame from a brief fling the two had a few years earlier. Serge, however, has recently taken up with someone else and is impatiently waiting for his new lover to move in.

“At the end of this long, hilarious scene with Otto, who spends all of his time eating non-stop and professing his love for Serge, a phone call comes,” Rodgers says.

Serge learns that his new lover will not be returning.

In the kind of plot twist that characterizes the classic farces of French playwright Georges Feydeau,all five characters end up in Amanda’s apartment the next morning for the final scene.

“They’re all linked, of course. There’s six degrees of separation in New York City. They’re all intertwined,” says Rodgers.

This is the Vancouver actor-director’s third stint in Whitehorse. She directed the Guild’s 2010 production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and last year’s Whitehorse Theatre Ensemble production of David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow.

Whitehorse, Rodgers says, has offered her some “terrific and diverse” directing opportunities.

“When you think that I’ve gone from doing a real old classic, to then doing one of Mamet’s best plays, and now to come and do a real, cutting edge, modern New York playwright, it’s so exciting. That’s why I keep coming back.”

This is her first time directing a play by Silver.

“So it’s finding your way through a new language, a new playwright. But he’s a really clever playwright, and the more that I work on the piece, the more I admire his writing,” she says.

“As with most good plays, if you’ve got a good script, then most of your job is done for you.”

Rodgers doesn’t comment on the fact that this year’s Guild season has consisted entirely of comedies, in contrast to the somewhat darker offerings of the 2010-2011 season.

“That doesn’t concern me. I am here just to have the best time and bring the top professional show to the audiences here, and I delve into whatever the offer is,” she says.

“And I do think it’s a lovely way to close the season. I really do. It’s great fare and great fun, and it’s always nice to go out with a bang.”

The Food Chain runs Wednesdays through Saturdays until April 28. Curtain time is 8 p.m. sharp.

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