Two by Blue

By Alidor Aucoin on August 7, 2008

“Being Frank”, Ricky Blue’s 70 minute musical cabaret about  a Frank Sinatra wannabe running at Théâtre Lac Brome until July 27, is a breezy, beguiling salute to ol’ blue eyes.

The Frank in this case (Neil Napier) is a hapless Sinatra buff who runs something called the Monday Night Frank Sinatra Music and Philosophy Club out of a down and out Montreal bar. The wisecracking bartender (Gregory Prest) and Frank’s sounding board who “sets ‘em up” is appropriately called Joe.

Frank’s quirky hangers-on include Sarah, psychic goth in fishnet stockings, (Laura Teasdale) who works a little witchcraft of her own, and Ashley, a hooker with a heart of gold, (Paula Costain) who, incidentally, has stardust in her eyes for Joe.

Both women have faith in Frank’s talent and bolster his ability in his act to become an impersonator by sending him off to an audition. The next thing you know, Napier is channeling his inner crooner, delivering a string of Sinatra standards with a company of performers that makes the most of the familiar melodies. The plot is held together by one-liners and the songs drive the evening as a show within a show. Teasedale delivers a disarming performance, Costain is winning, and Prest is terrific as Joe. Napier grows as the evening progresses, from a tentative Sinatra to a confident Chairman of the Board, at the end delivering a rousing rendition of You Make Me Feel So Young that would make the real Francis Albert Sinatra proud.

Nicholas Pynes, who is also the intimate theatre’s artistic director, provides deft piano accompaniment and is also credited with creating an economical set out of vintage Montreal tourist posters from the 1940’s and 50s, when Sinatra played the Forum with Tommy Dorsey¹s orchestra, and appeared at Chez Paree.

Its all goes down so nice’n’easy, a wonderfully embraceable evening.

Given that Blue has made a career out writing topical satire with his sidekick, George Bowser, its hard to fathom what went wrong with his other play, Campbell’s Sutra, that had its premiere at the Hudson Village Theatre the first week of July.

Blue manfully takes full credit for this bitter black comedy, and to be

fair, he began with a promising idea: Zack (Bill Croft) the owner of a

comedy club, facing a mid-life crisis, fakes his own death after learning that his partner and best buddy, Campbell (Vlasta Vrana), has slept with his wife, Linda (Susan Bain), then returns as a ghost to wreak revenge on his tormenters.

Blue has a cynical perspective on the human condition but his weird characters, including a couple of Buddhist nudists, Betty (Melanie Doerr) and Mark (Charles Raywood) —who bare all on stage—are more creepy than funny.

The cast is uniformly competent, but that’s not saying much. Campbell turns out to be a drunken letch who thinks nothing of propositioning Zack’s teen-aged daughter, Amanda (Jennifer Miller). “Could I interest you in breaking up my marriage?” he asks her.

Blue of all people should know that comedy requires a set up, timing, delivery, and a punch line. Campbell’s Sutra has the set up, but by twists and turns becomes intermittently silly and persistently strange. The audience keeps waiting for punch lines that rarely come.

Just as you suspend credibility and accept as real the seemingly ghostly (and evidently ghastly) goings on, the script takes a depressing turn that brings you down. As much as you want to, its hard to accept the unlikelihood of all of this.


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