Front Row Center – April 2021

Front Row Center

By Michael Warren

It’s My Party (And I’ll Die If I Want To)

by Elizabeth Coleman

Directed by Liz O’Neill

front row

After a long pause due to COVID-19, Ajijic Readers Theatre (ART) has produced this comedy by Australian writer Elizabeth Coleman. There are some farcical elements, mainly the ridiculous situation of the play itself, but it mostly works as a comedy.  

“Ron Patterson,” who is played with some vigor by Mark Heaton, has been given three months to live by his doctor. Because of his controlling and meticulous nature, he marks the day and the hour and invites his three children over to “celebrate” his death. Let’s have a party and pass the salad and sausage rolls. This is not exactly funny; in fact, it is tasteless in the extreme, but never mind—it’s only a play. The adult kids show up, and immediately begin to bicker. It’s clear that they dislike each other, and also don’t much care for their father. The only sympathetic character is their mother “Dawn” who has very sensibly got a bit tipsy. Marsha Heaton has a lot of fun with this role, and reminds me of George’s mother in a Seinfeld sketch.

Son “Michael” has several secrets which he wants his father to hear. He and his wife, Monique, are getting divorced, and also he needs to come out of the closet. He has fallen in love with his co-worker Andrew. Mark Donaldson handles the part well and his attempts to tell his father are brilliantly timed. Meanwhile the sisters “Karen” and “Debbie” do a lot of whining about each other and their Dad. This is a truly dysfunctional family. Karen has her wedding to plan, and Collette Clavadetscher plays her as needing to be the center of attention. She was always Dad’s favorite girl. Meanwhile Debbie, the eldest daughter, is a career woman and goes her own way. Lynn Gutstadt does a good job with a somewhat unrewarding part, with few funny lines. And, by the way, Debbie is unmarried and pregnant.

So the old man gets more than he expected. He thought he was a wonderful dad, but they are telling him that he was self-centered and uncaring. This is supposed to be funny? Anyway, in act two the funeral director shows up. Graham Miller is suitably somber as “Ted” and rolls his eyes in a funereal fashion. It’s a wonderful cameo part, and Graham makes the most of it. The funeral arrangements are discussed with the deceased-to-be, although no one seems to believe that Ron will actually die. He fools them all, and Michael in particular, by dying while Michael is revealing all to his father. Talk about not listening!

I think the author failed to decide whether she was writing a family drama with real characters or a comedy with crazy stereotypes. This confusion tends to affect the audience, who weren’t sure whether to laugh or not. In any event, Liz O’Neill did a great job in directing a strange play. The pace was excellent and the cast got the most out of the timing of their lines. I look forward to the next ART offering in April.

 

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