Syphilis Goes South

It sounds nasty.

A small group of northerners is scheming to infect a major southern city with Syphilis next month.

But there’s no need to alert public health officials.

Ramshackle Theatre is merely hoping to spread an infectious dose of laughter to audiences at the Edmonton International Fringe Festival, by means of Whitehorse playwright Peter Jickling’s comic play, Syphilis: A Love Story.

The play, which was eagerly received by Whitehorse theatre-goers at the end of the 2011 season, will be among some 40 productions vying for Best of the Fest honours at North America’s oldest and largest Fringe Theatre Festival.

“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t in the back of my mind,” Jickling admits. “But I guess we’ll just go there and concentrate on the shows as they come up and not worry too much about that.”

Jickling’s first play, which emerged in its earliest form at the Nakai Theatre Homegrown Festival in 2010, centres on a writer-for-hire named Vaughn Fischer (played by George Maratos).

When the mysterious Betty Beemer (Mary Sloan) commissions Fischer to write a simple brochure about syphilis, he becomes obsessed with turning it into a literary masterpiece.

The “love story” element concerns an old college flame, Lynn Flynn (Justine Davidson), who is desperate to re-light Vaughan’s fire.

Maratos, Sloan and Davidson will all reprise their 2011 roles for the six-show Edmonton run at the Telus Building.

They will be joined by Phillip Nugent, a former student of Sloan’s in the MAD (Music, Art and Drama) program, who now lives in Edmonton. Nugent will play Vaughn’s duplicitous friend, Howard Gunn, a role originally performed by Anthony Trombetta.

In an ill-conceived effort to help Lynn attract Vaughn’s attention, Howard persuades her to pretend she has inside knowledge of the subject that is obsessing him.

It does not go well.

Jickling insists his comedy is not autobiographical, although he recognizes parts of himself in all the characters.

“Probably Vaughan a little bit more than all the others, but they’re all kind of drawn out of my psyche to some degree, I guess.”

Apart from the new cast member, Jickling explains there will be some “small differences” in the Edmonton production, directed once again by Brian Fidler.

“I took one more pass over the script and re-worked that a little bit,” he says. “And we’re going to have fringe festival staging, which means it’s going to have a very minimalistic set.”

Another change is that there will be no intermission between the play’s two acts.

“I think it’s short enough that people’s bladders will be able to hang on for that long,” Jickling jokes.

Prior to the Edmonton production, Ramshackle is presenting a three-night run of Syphilis: A Love Story at the Guild Theatre July 26-28 for those who missed it first time around.

“Also we’re hoping that some people that have already seen it will come out again, even if it’s just to help support us on the way to the Fringe,” Jickling says.

“A good hometown send-off would certainly keep everyone’s spirits up, for sure.”

And while the first-time playwright won’t speculate about the play’s odds at the festival (August 16-26), the cast members are available should it be one of the plays chosen to be held over for another week, he notes.

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