The Guild Theatre will launch its 2018–19 season this week with Lawrence and Holloman, a darkly hilarious two-hander by award-winning Canadian playwright Morris Panych.
First produced at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre in 1998, it later inspired a film by the same name, starring Ben Cotton and Daniel Arnold, which drew mixed critical and box office response.
In Panych’s original, Lawrence (played in the Guild version by Adam MacDougall) is an ebullient, eternally-optimistic salesman, whom director Brian Fidler likens to a character from TV’s Mad Men series.
“He’s a bit of a chauvinist, completely politically incorrect, and oblivious to the fact there could be anything wrong with his misogyny and political incorrectness,” Fidler explained.
“Lawrence has a lot of things going for him. His work is going well, he’s about to get married, he’s got a few chicks on the side. He’s a very confident, ‘everything-is-going-his-way’ kind of guy.”
Enter Holloman (Brandon Wicke), the yin to Lawrence’s yang.
“Holloman is the exact opposite—a nerd who works in the finance department and is not doing so well in his life. These two men meet up, and Holloman sort of gets a focus on what he wants to do.”
[If the character’s name summons up images of T.S. Eliot’s poetry, it is not by coincidence.]
As the relationship between the two develops, Holloman grows increasingly resentful of Lawrence’s condescending attitude toward him.
Lawrence’s life soon begins to unravel, eventually resembling that of the biblical Job, whose faith in God was tested by everything from loss of his family and livelihood to an attack of festering boils.
“The character of Lawrence is tested time and time again, but he remains true to himself. Everything just falls apart around him, but he remains optimistic,” Fidler said.
For the audience, the response might provide a touch of schadenfreude, the perverse pleasure sometimes derived from the suffering of someone who deserves to be knocked down a peg or two.
But what is Holloman’s attitude, and what role might he have played in his friend’s undoing? Fidler declined to be specific, except to suggest that the cat-and-mouse plot ends (in true Eliot style) not with a bang, but a whimper.
Although Panych’s script was a product of the 1990s, Fidler has conceived this production as an early 1960s-style whodunit, complete with a spy/espionage soundtrack.
Fidler admits to having personal reasons for choosing this piece to open his third season as the Guild’s artistic director.
“I’ve always loved this play, and I’ve been looking for an opportunity either to be in it, or to produce it,” he said.
“His writing is super witty and very clever. In front of the right audience, there’s a laugh a line, and it moves really, really quickly. It’s just blindingly clever—to my taste, anyway,” he added.
“Now that I get to hold the reins and do the programming for the Guild, this was the perfect opportunity. It was a combination of loving the play and knowing there was the actor base in town to pull it off.”
In fact, he admitted, casting the show involved some hard decisions.
“There were some super-talented people who came out, and I could have cast it a number of different ways, but these two (MacDougall and Wicke) really stood out.”
Lawrence and Holloman has its official opening on Thursday, September 27 at 8 p.m., with a preview performance the previous evening. It runs until Saturday, October 13 at the Guild Hall on 14th Avenue.
Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets or at Whitehorse Motors. More information is available at www.GuildHall.ca.
A season of disparate classics
As the Guild Theatre’s artistic director, Brian Fidler faced some challenges finding the right balance for the four shows he had picked for the 2018–19 season—each of which he considered a classic in its own right.
He chose to follow the black comedy opener with something more substantial: French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1944 masterpiece, No Exit.
“It made sense to have something that an audience can really sink their teeth into. It was also a casting thing. I think we have great potential to cast that show up here.”
The play concerns three strangers locked together for eternity in a small chamber in Hell. There are no instruments of torture, but they become each other’s tormentors. Hence, Sartre’s famous dictum that, “Hell is other people.”
Fidler sees parallels with current times.
“We’re stuck in this nightmare where we don’t have any say in the world we’re living in and who’s running it. But hopefully, it’s not for eternity,” Fidler joked.
No Exit will run from November 29 through December 15, under the direction of Vancouverite Genevieve Fleming, who has previously directed the play’s French-language version, Huis Clos.
“We start out a little dark, then we move right into the light in the new year.”
From January 24 until February 9, the black-box theatre will feature Christopher Durang’s 2012 comic hit, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a riff on Anton Chekhov’s familiar themes of small lives in small towns.
“I was casting around for a Chekhov piece, because there’s a certain portion of our audience that likes Shakespeare and likes Chekhov. I read Vanya, and I thought it was hilarious and perfect.”
Brian Cochrane will spearhead the show in his second directorial stint at the Guild.
The season will close in April (4–20) with The Drowsy Chaperone, an all-Canadian take on the 1920s musical comedy that took Broadway by storm in 2006 and captured five Emmy awards on its way to worldwide theatre acclaim.
“It’s always been on my bucket list of shows, and I think it’s a great challenge to try and do this big, jazzy show in the Guild, in that small space.”
Former Whitehorse dancer/choreographer Jessica Hickman will direct, with musical direction by her husband, Brooke Maxwell, the musical brain behind Atomic Vaudeville’s wildly popular Ride the Cyclone.