Stage Door Review

The Wonder of it All

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

✭✭

by Mark Weatherley, directed by Seana McKenna

Here For Now Theatre, The Bruce Hotel Back Lawn, 89 Parkview Drive, Stratford

August 17-September 5, 2021

“Should I stay or should I go?” (The Clash, 1981)

Stratford’s independent Here For Now Theatre’s most recent opening in its 2021 New Works Festival is the charming comedy The Wonder of it All by Mark Weatherley directed by Stratford Festival legend Seana McKenna. Weatherley will be most familiar to HFN audiences from his powerful play Whack! that ran at last year’s HFN festival and for writing the book to Kale Penny’s lovely musical The Tracks for this year’s festival. In The Wonder of it All Weatherley shows himself a master observer of human behaviour and the needless follies human beings can fall into.

At the start of the play Charmaine (Monique Lund) is about to leave her husband of 25 years Kingsley (Weatherley). She has her wheeled carry-on luggage in hand and her dark glasses on almost advertising the fact that she’s going away. But pauses before taking the fatal step away from her home. Kingsley’s phone rings, ironically with The Clash song “Should I Stay Or Should I Go”, when his neighbour Mrs. Nesbitt (also Lund) informs him that Charmaine looks like she’s leaving. But will Kingsley do anything? Will Charmaine?

From here on Charmaine and Kingsley alternate in directly addressing the audience to explain how the events in their marriage came to this crisis. The two will then act out a scene from the past and provide their he-said-she-said commentary on it. The couple moves from ceasing to talk about anything significant to actively bickering about unimportant things, such as what Commander Peary must have thought on having reached the North Pole.

About marriage, Charmaine quotes the character Mike Campbell in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (1926) about how he went bankrupt: “Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.” She tells us that they are now in the “suddenly” phase when the slightest thing will set off an argument.

With the dual perspective Weatherley gives us we can see how misperceptions mount into active battle. Kingsley may think he is merely being silent whereas Charmaine thinks he is “sullen”. Charmaine may persist in asking a question, but Kingsley will think she is being “aggressive”.

The fact that they should even be together is something they both find unlikely. They met at a party where Kingsley brought his ukulele and entertained guests with songs of the 1920s. Kingsley immediately fell for Charmaine but thought she was way out of his league. Charmaine only remembered Kingsley as that “weird ukulele guy”. What changed is when Kingsley, obsessed with Charmaine, began actively seeking her out and found her one night weeping in the pouring rain. She had just discovered, so she thought, that Byron (also Kingsley) the man she loved, was cheating on her. Charmaine was deeply moved that Kingsley just sat with her in silence in the rain caressing her hair.

Now, after 25 years of marriage, Charmaine gives into the idea that she deserves to have fun in life and begins online dating, finally settling on an in-person date with someone who turns out to be none other than Byron. Kingsley, meanwhile, who always thought he was never good enough for her, has taken to gardening to calm and isolate himself from Charmaine’s unhappiness even though gardening involves unsolicited advice from the nosy neighbour Mrs. Nesbitt (also Lund).

The structure of Weatherley’s play makes it tricky to direct. The show’s alternation of the characters’ direct address to the audience has to be clearly distinguished from their re-enactment of scenes from the past. Director Seana McKenna is very precise in keeping these two manners of presentation distinct, but there are two places where scenes are fuzzier that they should be. Part of the humour of Mrs. Nesbitt’s gardening advice to Kingsley is that she really is simply talking about plants, whereas Kingsley keeps thinking she is using her gardening advice as metaphors for what she thinks Kingsley and Charmaine should do about their marriage. It took me rather too long to realize that the metaphorical interpretation was all in Kingsley’s mind.

Weatherley closes the play with an extremely clever sequence which I cannot reveal. The humour in it depends upon the characters playing roles with each other and using these roles to reveal thoughts that they would not without the role to hide behind. Yet, Weatherley also makes Kingsley and Charmaine aware they are playing roles. I’m afraid that keeping the multiple levels of the characters’ awareness absolutely clear is something that so far has evaded McKenna as well as Lund and Weatherley.

Weatherley and Lund (husband and wife in real life) easily exude a playful rapport on stage. Weatherley convincingly conveys that Kingsley’s penchant for turning everything into a joke is really a cover for his insecurity. Lund as Charmaine also gives us no doubt that Charmaine’s frustration with Kingsley lies in his inability to express his feelings. We do see that the couple has a way out of their bind and the pleasure of the play is watching how they discover that way out even if they have to use strangely artificial means to do so.

Both actors are very funny in their alternate roles – Weatherley as the slimy British-accented Byron and Lund as the harsh-voiced busybody Mrs. Nesbitt.

The is a very appealing comedy not just because of its plethora of witty lines but because of its insight into how molehills can become mountains over time in any relationship. This is another success for Here For Now Theatre and another play that could easily have a long life beyond the HFN Festival.

Christopher Hoile

Photo: Mark Weatherley and Monique Lund; Mark Weatherley; Monique Lund. © Here For Now Theatre.

For tickets visit www.herefornowtheatre.com.