REVIEW

Mix of marriage, home renos makes for solid comedy in new PTE play

The quickest way to dismantle a marriage might be to dismantle your kitchen. That's the sentiment behind Marriage: A Demolition in Two Acts, a new comedy by Winnipeg writer Rick Chafe.

Rick Chafe’s Marriage: A Demolition in Two Acts delivers crowd-pleasing laughs in world premiere

It spite of a few rough patches, PTE's Marriage: A Demolition in Two Acts offers plenty of laughs with its mix of relationship and home improvement comedy. (Bruce Monk)

The quickest way to dismantle a marriage might be to dismantle your kitchen.

That's the sentiment behind Marriage: A Demolition in Two Acts, a new comedy by Winnipeg writer Rick Chafe (a Governor General's Award nominee for his last play, The Secret Mask, which — like this one — saw its premiere at Prairie Theatre Exchange).

Like any home renovation, not everything in this new play works out quite perfectly — but the end result is certainly pleasing enough to feel like it's worth the effort.

As a kitchen is torn to its studs, the bones of two marriages are also exposed in the crowd-pleasing comedy Marriage: A Demolition in Two Acts. (Bruce Monk)
There are two marriages in danger of demolition here — the decades-long one of baby boomers Wayne (Tom Anniko) and Julie (Marina Stephenson Kerr), finally embarking on their long-delayed kitchen renovation; and the impending marriage of the young contractors they hire, Maggie (Erin McGrath) and John (Justin Otto).

As Wayne and John tear the kitchen to its studs, the bones of the two relationships are also exposed — and not always for the best.

The situation and the interplay of the two couples leave lots of opportunity for both good comedy and clichés, and Marriage delivers both.

On the plus side, Chafe has a great ear for dialogue, and crafts a lot of quippy one-liners and witty exchanges, along with a few nice Winnipeg in-jokes for the hometown crowd (like Wayne's description of his neighbourhood, where "the streets change their names three times for some reason").

Justin Otto and Marina Stephenson Kerr perform in Marriage: A Demolition in Two Acts. The home reno situation and the interplay of two married couples leave lots of opportunity for both good comedy and clichés, and the play delivers both. (Bruce Monk)
The characters can teeter toward stereotypes — the women are sometimes shrill and the men clueless or curmudgeonly. But they still seem genuine enough that we can connect with them, laugh at them and cringe when they say something stupid (and often cringe and laugh at the same time).

Chafe's script offers more than enough laughs to carry the audience happily through the play's two-hour running time. But it does feel like it gets mired in overlong shouting matches and plot bounces in its second act.

That said, it also avoids predictability and pat conclusions, and right up until its satisfying end, Chafe delivers comedy that has more than a bit of the bite of truth and real life to it.

Tom Anniko and Erin McGrath are half of a strong local cast in PTE's Marriage: A Demolition in Two Acts. (Bruce Monk)
The four-person local cast does an admirable job of selling the comedy and playing the emotional range of the characters. Stephenson Kerr delights with her lustful glances through catalogues of countertops and the daggers she shoots at Wayne as he sticks his foot in his mouth; Anniko delivers great bluster and loveable hubris in that role. Otto is charmingly vulnerable as the sometimes childlike John, and McGrath finds both the sharp wit and the idealism in Maggie.

Director Bob Metcalfe's production is polished and shows off great comic timing, and makes clever use of Brian Perchaluk's ingeniously designed set, which allows a kitchen to be torn apart before our eyes — and even allows the set changes to become nice bits of physical comedy.

If it were a house, you might say Marriage needs a bit of spackle here or a paint touch-up there — but it's got great bones. This demolition is a solid crowd-pleaser.

Marriage: A Demolition in Two Acts runs at Prairie Theatre Exchange until Apr. 3.

About the Author

Joff Schmidt

CBC theatre reviewer

Joff Schmidt is a copy editor for CBC Manitoba. Since 2005, he's also been CBC Manitoba's theatre critic on radio and online. He majored in theatre at the U of M, and performed in many university and Fringe festival productions along the way (ranging from terrible to pretty good, according to the reviews). Find him on Twitter @JoffSchmidt.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.