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Complex comedy

Review by Norah Pendergast

Perhaps the word ‘crisis’ should have more positive connotations, at least within a personal context. Directed by Islander, Charlotte Gowdy, Myth of the Ostrich, playfully illustrates the dysfunction caused by avoiding threatening realities. When branches of distortion are finally torn away in a painful pruning, a more fruitful existence is possible. That sounds so serious, but this play is anything but preachy. Written by up and coming Canadian Playwright, Matt Murray, Myth of the Ostrich is a hilarious and sensitive story of the unifying common threads of humanity that are often lost through assumption and judgement and salvaged by truly effective communication. The artistic jewel of the South Shore, the Victoria Playhouse, has produced a crowd pleaser, a thoroughly Canadian contemporary comedy. The play is full of surprises, bizarre twists and endearing characters. 

The story is set in motion when conservative, unworldly Pam finds a letter that her son has written to his sweetheart. Irrationally concerned, she pays an unannounced visit Cheryl, the mother of her son’s crush. The cast is rounded out by Newfoundlander, Holly, a friend who drops by with a package and becomes an audience favourite for her vigorous freedom in speech and behaviour, and the way she charismatically pulls Pam into reality. Audience members are granted access to the rollicking dramatic irony which propels the story.

The punchy dialogue is exchanged with great chemistry between characters. Johanna Nutter plays the ironic Holly, a pessimistic and realist self help entrepreneur. Melanie Piatocha plays Pam and succeeds in animating the character with a combination of righteousness and tense anxiety. Stand out, Renée Hackett, plays bawdy Cheryl for the second time, having originated the role in the play’s 2015 Toronto Fringe Festival debut.  

The set design, by W. Scott MacConnell, long time scenic designer for the Playhouse, is perfectly appointed for a comedy — a definitive basement apartment, cozy and cluttered, a safe place for women’s secrets. 

Early in the play Holly confronts Pam with the immorality of snooping in her son’s letters. She is right, and gains respect for taking a moral stand, but the audience can’t help but sympathize with Pam, whose intuition compels such behaviour. The pressures of Pam’s life are illustrated by the unseen characters of her husband and her mother, from them Pam internalizes strict expectations for white collar image maintenance. Despite their formidable differences, Pam and Cheryl bond over the vastly different, but equally as alienating, tendencies of their mothers. 

With contemporary social and political references, Myth of the Ostrich preserves nuances and underrepresented voices of our time and place for future generations. Director Gowdy commented on the timeliness of the production, “at a time when societies are being polarized by opposing opinions I believe that now more than ever we must try to get along despite our differences.”

Audiences will be united in their appreciation of this complex and engaging comedy, which runs to September 2 at the Victoria Playhouse.

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