1 min

Quirky chesterfield

A dysfunctional family flirts with fatuity

Credit: Xtra files

It’s the last day of childhood for the bespectacled Iris (played by Kristina Nicoll): “Adulthood is when you remember when you used to be happy,” she’s been told.

While strong comic performances and well-paced direction by Vancouver playwright Morris Panych more than hold The Girl In The Goldfish Bowl together, the script gets too caught up in quirky Canadiana to explore its characters compellingly.

The play unfolds in a moldy west coast boarding house during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Iris’s parents are walking wounded. Owen (John Jarvis), a disheveled war vet, is a morphine aficionado obsessed with geometry and dreams of Paris. His wife Sylvia (Brenda Robins) has never loved him, and was stymied in an attempt to leave the family by breaking her arm. They coexist with a raddled boarder (Tanja Jacobs), who works at the cannery and drinks at the Legion.

Into the mix Iris imports the amnesiac and apparently crazy Mr Lawrence (Richard Zeppieri), found wandering on the beach, who the child concludes is the reincarnation of her recently departed goldfish.

The multi-level indoor-outdoor set, by Panych’s partner Ken MacDonald, evokes a shabby chic that makes 1962 look much like the war years. Centre stage sits a red ’40s chesterfield – sofa would be historically un-Canadian.

The performers know what they’re doing. Jacobs shows a gift for comedy as the honking-voiced Miss Rose. Jarvis is too energetic to be a convincing wreck of a man, but his performance gradually gathers comic steam. Nicoll stays this side of irritating as the precocious pre-pubescent. Slightly hunched and with a voice reminiscent of Lisa Simpson, she gets a laugh just about every time she opens her mouth.

Zeppieri’s spooked and unpredictable Mr Lawrence is especially fascinating to watch – his surprising antics include applying eyebrow pencil and developing an unrequited crush on Owen, mainly for laughs. Brenda Robins brings depth to the brittle Sylvia, who, hardened and unhappy in marriage, symbolizes the women of her generation.

But emotionally the play stalls whenever there’s a dramatic exchange between husband and wife. These strained moments are predictably interrupted by Iris’s kooky antics, perhaps because there’s nothing engaging about the pair’s very conventional dilemma. Though entertaining and carried off with impressive professionalism, this vision of yesteryear’s dysfunctional family flirts with fatuity.

Girl In The Goldfish Bowl continues at the Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman Ave) until Sun, Oct 27; call (416) 531-1827.