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  • Joe Szekeres

THERE'S MORE THAN JUST AN OSCAR AND FELIX 'ODD COUPLE' STORY HERE at MARKHAM LITTLE THEATRE



From left: John Sellens, Ray Porrill, Gerri Sefi. Photo by DVP - D'Arcy Vachon Photography

A BENCH IN THE SUN, a comedy by Ron Clark

Presented by Markham Little Theatre


Review by Joe Szekeres, Chief Toronto Critic for www.OnstageBlog.com and contributor to www.slowcity.ca


MLT’s production gently reminds us of the importance to sit on that bench in the sun and to connect with others no matter our age.


This may sound rather trite but, given the current turmoil and tension of the world we know right now, it is important for all of us to build positive relationships with others as we grow older. We will need to feel part of a community no matter where we live or with what activities in which we involve ourselves. Markham Little Theatre’s 2018-2019 season opener, A Bench in the Sun, is a story about relationship building and the endurance of friendship and love in our fleeting senior years. It’s a character driven piece where a director, crew and actors must pay careful attention to specifics in setting, sound, staging and characterization for the play to work.


Rene Vriends’ set design and Nicky C. Marsh’s set dressing of an outdoor sitting area of a seniors’ residence paid close attention to details. Astroturf covered the entire stage floor. Artificial shrubbery (which looked like it was meticulously painted on the back wall from my seat) was set in such a way that it resembled a nicely trimmed hedge. The bench was set centre stage. Far stage right was a Victorian style lamp post. A garbage can was also found stage right. Stage left was a tree stump. Two trellises with vines were found far stage left and right.


The pre-show music of a variety of genres was an appropriate touch as the songs all focused on the theme of connection we have with each other as we grow older. It was announced the theatre is in the process of updating its lighting system since the lights were borrowed for this production. Given this limitation, I found John Sellens’ lighting design of each scene sharply focused my attention on where it needed to be.


Director Marlene Foran credits her four dedicated actors in her Director’s Note who ‘were willing to explore their characters in as many ways, and with much depth as possible.’ Ms. Foran wisely let them explore as it is a worthy challenge for an actor to step out of their comfort zone in playing a character far older in age than they appear to be. Ray Porrill and John Sellens faced this challenge head on.


L: John Sellens and R: Ray Porrill. Photo by DVP - D'Arcy Vachon Photography.

And I bought their performances as seniors in a retirement residence. Their chemistry in knocking the one liners and zingers back and forth to each other was beautifully timed. Thankfully, these gentlemen chose not to play Harold and Burt respectively as stereotypical, doddering old men as that would have grown quite tiresome rather quickly. The slight quibble I had from my seat was the fact there appeared to be too much make up on both men. They didn’t need it.


Even as he entered meticulously ‘dressed to impress’ with his cane, Mr. Porrill still had that twinkle in his eye and spark in his step as Harold (probably because of his life experience with his three ex wives and multitude of children and grandchildren). Periodically, Porrill uses his cane effectively as an extension to maintain that sense of playfulness of Harold and to show that he’s still got it. Sometimes, I wondered if Harold was right when he says he doesn’t read the news anymore because it makes him sad.


In contrast with the dapper looking Harold, John Sellens (as Burt) wears comfortable looking pajamas and housecoat and not caring what Harold or anyone thinks. Mr. Sellens nicely shows a crusty side to Burt in his frustration that Harold doesn’t care about what is going on in the world. While Harold had to contend with his ex-wives and assorted children and grandchildren, Burt momentarily speaks to his deceased wife about an event involving Harold from years before. These moments were poignant, but it would have been a nice touch if Sellens could give even a slight indication if he missed his wife (a sigh, perhaps?)


The introduction of Adrienne (a bubbly and flirtatious Gerri Sefi) humorously adds to the tension between Harold and Burt as they vie for the actress’s attention. Ms. Sefi confidently plays her charm while cozily sidling up to the men to see what sort of reaction she receives from both. Messrs. Porrill and Sellens comically respond in kind and the game’s afoot. Harold and Burt’s dance lesson made me laugh. The ‘fight’ between the two men brought a smile to my face. Adrienne’s unexpected moves on both men provided further laughs. Burt’s cake eating in the second act is a riot to watch.


Michele Browne’s Announcer voice over the public address system in the retirement home also brought much needed fun in the same manner as Carlton, the unseen drunken doorman from the TV show Rhoda (does that age me?). The four-season scene changes also worked well for me as the ladies appeared to be having a great time.


Final Comments: Growing older is inevitable for all of us. However, we can weather this process through humour and laughter. Ms. Foran wrote an interesting statement in her Director’s Note that caught my eye: “Retirement homes do everything to keep you alive and nothing to keep you living.” Let’s hope, as we all age, there will be friends like Burt, Harold or Adrienne in our golden years who will do anything to keep us living through laughter, poignancy, and even the occasional ‘fling’.


A Bench in the Sun continues September 15, 19, 20, 21 and 22, 2018 at 8:00 pm at Markham Little Theatre’s intimately quaint Backstage (on the Markham Museum Grounds). For tickets, call the Box Office at (905) 305-7469. Visit the company’s website www.markhamlittletheatre.ca or their Facebook page: MLT Markham Little Theatre for further information.


The play runs approximately two hours with one intermission of 20 minutes.


Producer: Sarah McDonald

Director: Marlene Foran

Stage Manager: Valerie Martinez

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