Wednesday, May 19, 2010




First produced in London and LA in 1998, with a Toronto production at Factory Theatre later the same year, Featuring Loretta is a delightfully bizarre little romp through the sordid lives of a few rather desperate young heterosexuals trying to sort out their respective traumas within the confines of a motel room. Written by Geroge F. Walker, one of Canada’s pre-eminent playwrights, the play was conceived as part of a six part series entitled Suburban Motel (1997).

With hundreds of productions worldwide and extensive translations of his work, Walker has blazed a formidable trail in Canadian theatre history. The current production of Featuring Loretta, at first glance, appears to be a bit of a red herring in the context of Walker’s fast paced comic oeuvre. Considered by some to be the weakest of the six part series, there is in fact something deceptively pleasing about this simple tale of a woman’s struggle to maintain her identity among manipulative boyfriends, philandering dead husbands who have been eaten by bears, and a booking agent who wants to exploit Loretta’s body.

Ken Gass’s direction sustains rollicking breakneck pacing as the actors deliver physically charged performances, moving furniture around in a very creative, at times fourth wall-breaking manner. Lesley Faulkner’s Loretta is sexy and assertive, providing subtle layers for what could have lapsed into a ditsy bewildered stereotype. But Faulkner’s Loretta never falters in her quest to create strong boundaries between herself and disruptive forces ranging from family members to absent KGB agents. In short, she is on the threshold of a life-changing event and is making one final stab at creating a secure environment for herself and the responsibilities she faces - without the interference of well-meaning morons.

Kevin Hanchard as the booking agent creates a subtle sleaziness with fine comic delivery that provides a sympathetic edge to his character. Similarly, Brandon McGibbon’s Dave, the present boyfriend, creates an appropriately goofy charm that simultaneously disarms, annoys, and engages in a skilful and believable manner. And when McGibbon and Hanchard engage in physical struggle over Loretta it takes on a refreshing homoerotic tone that subverts the dominant heterosexual narrative and proves to be utterly enchanting. The surrounding players are all there in order to feature Loretta, and as an ensemble they do this in a multi-layered manner that has a couple of titillating underwear scenes that raise the stakes and move this bedroom farce of into an evening of diverse comic entertainment.

Monica Dottor’s Sophie could have easily portrayed the Russian maid with stereotypical fervor, so common these days on television in prime time spots such as Desperate Housewives. And yet she skilfully manages to make the character both comic and sympathetic, without teetering into a disturbing caricature in any way. When the booking agent displays interest in her as a stripper/porn star one can actually imagine his intentions as something distantly akin to romance, and not simply a pornographic voyeuristic act.

Featuring Loretta is a timely and somewhat retrospective critique of misogyny, and the ways in which women have been commodified by particular forms of representation and entertainment. The final moments of this ‘light’ comedy possess a harrowing tone through the expertise of Jeremy Mimnagh’s video and sound design, Marian Wihak’s set, Kimberly Purtell’s lighting, and David Boechler’s costumes - providing powerful punctuation for a very simple and direct statement about one woman’s route towards independence.

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