Paleontology is easy, comedy is hard. Colleen Curran knows how to write comedy, and Montreal audiences have had many opportunities to laugh until their toes curl because she has written memorable and fantastically funny plays. There are scenes in True Nature that reveal her comic genius; one is a rehearsal of a skit to be performed at a fundraiser, which was supposedly written by enthusiastic high school students. The scene’s hilarity grew from the constant references to nineteenth century writers, the bickering about the lines, and the timing of the music. There were further opportunities for laughter during an amusing dream sequence.
The plot is basically a romantic comedy; the romance between a paleontology professor who is dedicated to the work and history of Mary Anning (a remarkable fossil finder who received no credit for her amazing discoveries during her lifetime), and a fellow paleontologist who cleverly interrupts her lecture on the subject.
The rest of the play, however, seemed like a series of unfortunate relationships. One character had serious problems with a best friend, played by Mary Harvey. Here was a very competent actor playing a ridiculous role. Mary dressed like a slightly artsy twenty year old, while apparently working at a high school and performing biological miracles. Then there was the fabulous Michel Perron, who can play anyone and sing anything. His character is entangled in one of the unfortunate relationships but otherwise he does not have a purpose.
Felicia Shulman played Mimi – the over-the-top Jewish sister of the romantic lead – like Joan Rivers on steroids. Her Yiddish pronunciation needed work and thus was doubly funny when she corrected the Yiddish pronunciations of the female romantic lead. Mimi’s materialistic forays into Latin America to try to improve the lives of the poor by buying their crafts at ridiculously low prices, only to have a junta supposedly take over did seem a little extreme.
As someone who grew up surrounded by really sexy, funny, male Jewish intellectuals, I couldn’t buy Bruce Dinsmore as Mitch. The men I knew had sharp wits and were known for their snappy repartee. Unfortunately, this character was not given enough of those qualities, and his dramatic response to the crisis within his relationship did not make sense in a 21st century context.
Leni Parker is one of the city’s best actors and she did hold her own throughout this play. Her opening lecture/flirtation is worth the price of admission. I wish the other characters were as well-written and realized. I must also say that the set starts out by looking like an iPhone and ends up being truly beautiful and astonishing. The lighting was also spectacular.
We were all looking forward to this play, especially those of us who had been to the reading at McGill. It has a lot of intelligence and humour. The problem was that we got a lot of “set up” and not enough “delivery”. Nevertheless, I do congratulate the Centaur for producing a local playwright and engaging so many talented local actors.
True Nature runs from Oct 4 to Nov 6 at Centaur Theatre. For tickets and more information, visit the Centaur’s website: http://www.centaurtheatre.com/43_truenature.html