Cuttin' A Rug
Review by Rachel Lynn Brody
The Elvis music plunges you right back into the world of the Slab Boys; it's easy to believe only a few hours have passed (as in the world of Byrne's plays) rather than the span of a month that's gone between the opening of The Slab Boys and the Traverse Theatre's latest offering, Cuttin' A Rug.
The best thing about sequels is that one can skip the basics - the audience should already know what happened to the characters so far - and move right into the meat of the play. When skillfully done, however, sequels will stand without the benefit of knowledge of the first show. In Cuttin' A Rug, this has been achieved. While prior knowledge of the characters from the first play will benefit any audience member, Cuttin' A Rug is different enough in both substance and style that it's not necessary to follow the storyline from the first play - crucial when the plays were first produced, given the full year that passed between the original productions.
Under the direction of Philip Howard, old characters have gained new facets. Lucille (Molly Innes) seems to have matured a bit between leaving work and getting picked up in Alan's (Grant O'Rourke) dad's sports car. While Hector (Alan Tripney) is still mooning over Lucille, there's a bit more depth to him this time around. Phil (Paul Thomas Hickey) and Spanky (Iain Robertson) barely show the effects of their day at the office, other than a couple of exchanges over the course of this surprisingly brief play, but it's great to see Currie and Sadie (Michael Mackenzie and Una McLean, respectively) acting a bit more themselves and a bit less as caricatures of their "types."
John Kazek returns, though this time in the guise of the Elvis-loving boyfriend of one of Lucille's (Innes) friends, Bernadette (Dawn Steele). The final piece of the puzzle is Anne Marie Timoney playing the nerve-ridden and (by the end of the evening) drink-soaked Miss Walkinshaw. It's definitely these additions to the cast who tip the scales in favor of Cuttin' A Rug's lighter side, especially as the play moves into the second act and Miss Walkinshaw starts showing the effects of not only a few drinks, but a phone call to her mother, as well.
Aside from one aborted attempt early in the show and a final exchange between Phil (Hickey) and Spanky (Robertson), Cuttin' A Rug lacks the forced and barely-covered seriousness of The Slab Boys. This is a relief - unlike the first play, where the humor had a stunted feeling to it, Cuttin' A Rug shows the characters outside their work environment, where (like most people) they are far more comfortable, and seem far more themselves. This may be, in part at least, because over half the cast has had a month to grow into their roles - which in turn has allowed them to find more of an "office group" dynamic.
Neil Warmington, who also designed the first piece (and who also designs the third piece, Still Life), has created a vastly different set this time around - far less clutter and far more functionality in this set, which lends itself to the choreography of at least one scene.
Cuttin' A Rug will run through December 21, with additional performances throughout January. Times and dates are available on the Traverse Theatre website and special discount rates apply for those who wish to see all three plays.
>> Rachel's review of The Slab Boys.