It never quite scores the big laughs it needs to.
—Joff Schmidt, theatre reviewer
You can take Rod Beattie out of Wingfield... but can you take Wingfield out of Rod Beattie?
Ed's Garage, running now at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, may not be the best test for this. After all, it reunites the core team behind the immensely-popular Wingfield series of plays - performer Rod Beattie, playwright Dan Needles, and director Douglas Beattie.
Whereas the Wingfield plays are solo pieces, though, Rod Beattie gets help here from a small ensemble cast - but alas, there's not help enough in the world to save this clunker of a play.
Beattie doesn't have to stray far from Wingfield territory in Ed's Garage. He plays Ed, the sage-like proprietor of the titular garage, where people come to have their personal problems tuned up as much as their cars. Like a lot of farmers in his (fictional) community of Port Petunia, Ed's had to find other work with the demise of the family farm.
And in its more thoughtful moments, Ed's Garage does have something to say about the sad decline of rural communities. Nothing new or really all that interesting, but hey, it's something.
The fairly aimless plot revolves around Ed dispensing his folksy wisdom to Peter (Andrew Cecon), an ex-farmer who's been ordered into anger management because he blew up at some jerk of a bureaucrat. Of course, that's redundant, because in the world of Ed's Garage, all bureaucrats and politicians are jerks, and cops are incompetent boobs more likely to be found at the doughnut shop than doing any policing. Seriously, there are two "cops in doughnut shops" jokes here - that's how uninspired and hackneyed the gags in Ed's Garage are.
Things are complicated by the arrival of Cassandra (Tracy Penner), the psychotherapist who takes on Peter's case, but soon starts to fall for him. She still finds time, luckily, to marvel at what a psychotherapeutic genius the untrained Ed is. More admiration is heaped on him by his assistant Nick (Douglas E. Hughes), whose main function in the play seems to be admiring Ed and dropping corny one liners (like the one about how "assuming" makes an "ass out of you and me").
Ed's Garage doesn't aspire to be more than light comedy, which is fine - and to be certain, it lands a few chuckles with its observations about rural living (lines like "This is farming country - depression and anxiety don't shut down for the winter" will resonate here in southern Manitoba). But it never quite scores the big laughs it needs to.
The four-member cast struggles gamely with this - they're all talented performers, but ultimately, like director Douglas Beattie, they seem unsure of where the funny is in Needles' script.
This one will be a disappointment to Wingfield fans - while not earth-shattering works, the Wingfield plays are always reliable entertainment.
Ed's Garage, though, is like a car left unplugged on a Winnipeg January night - a non-starter.
Ed's Garage runs at the John Hirsch Theatre (RMTC Mainstage) until Mar. 2.