Douglas Bowie's comedy Till It Hurts is like a telemarketer from a charitable organization in some ways. The Prairie Theatre Exchange production can be irritating at points, and it may try your patience. But really, it's just trying to do good in the world - and sometimes, it succeeds.
Telephone solicitation is the jumping-off point of this play, which centres around Seymour Mann (Allan Morgan), an English professor on the verge of retirement (and indeed, in his skin-baring first scene, we do "see more" of this man). His last duty is to give the speech of his lifetime to his esteemed colleagues - but the problem is, he doesn't feel he's lived much of a life to reflect on.
Allan Morgan and Elizabeth Stephenson in "Till it hurts" (Robert Tinker)
Enter Esme (Melanie Whyte), a persistent telemarketer from the Stephen Lewis Foundation who breaks through Seymour's crusty shell in unexpected ways.
I'm not giving much away to say this is all going to end happily ever after - Bowie's message about the importance of living an examined life is not terribly surprising, and its end note straddles the border between touching and treacly. But moralizing is not the point - this play is mostly about the laughs, which director Robert Metcalfe's production delivers fitfully.
Bowie's script take a scattergun approach to comedy - it fires a lot of jokes at the wall. Some of them stick ("Are you using PowerPoint?" Seymour is asked - "No, I shall be powerless and pointless" is the dry response). Some of them don't (really, I'd be just fine never hearing another limp Cialis joke).
Likewise, Metcalfe's production works at points, is a letdown at others. His snappy pacing is great (although the two-hour play would benefit from a trim), and some of the show's moments of farce sing (one that begins with a hot iron and ends with Seymour wearing toothpaste on his forehead is good for chuckles).
There are some missteps in the interpretation of the characters, though. While Whyte steals the show with an endearing portrayal of luckless Esme, Morgan's Seymour has an unfortunate tendency toward being screechy in an attempt to be "wacky." He's more successful in the second act, when he dials Seymour down a bit. (I should note here that I saw the preview performance, and this is one of those problems that might correct itself later in the run.) But overall, Metcalfe's production too often mistakes "loud" for "funny."
Playing several supporting roles, Kevin Klassen and Elizabeth Stephensen also achieve mixed results. Klassen delivers some good laughs with a nice impression of Stephen Lewis, but Stephensen's take on Seymour's hapless assistant Amber is too one-note to connect.
She gets no favours from Bowie's writing, though - having her actually say "LOL" as she laughs is either a misguided attempt at a joke, or a fair indication that Bowie's not really sure what people under 30 sound like.
It's a bumpy production of an uneven play. But if you're looking for nothing grander than a few decent laughs, it works fine. And hey - it's better than staying home and taking calls from telemarketers.