Jitters is a hilarious love letter to Canadian Theatre

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Jitters | Arts Club Theatre Company | Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage | January 25 – February 25, 2018

“Where else can you be a top notch actor and still die broke and anonymous?” asks Canadian theatre star Patrick Flanagan (Robert Moloney). This line sets the tone for David French’s love note to Canadian theatre with all the trials and tribulations artists go through to get a show to opening night. Director David Mackay has set this Arts Club production in 1979, the year the play was first produced, and it’s wonderful to see the set and costumes bring this era to life.

The show begins with the cast in rehearsal for The Care and Treatment of Roses written by Robert Ross (Ryan Beil), a nervous playwright who worries this script won’t live up to his first play. The actors all have their own hang ups, the director is getting desperate, and everything that could go wrong, does. 

The pressure is on as their play is on the brink of a Broadway run in New York, if only they can make it to opening night without any major disasters or the leading lady quitting. Balancing these temperamental actors, George Ellsworth (Martin Happer) tries to keep everything together as it unravels before his eyes.   

The script is full of laugh out loud lines, such as leading lady Jessica Logan’s assertion that “they hate success in this country,” quips about critics such as “he writes like he needs an enema,” and Robert the playwright, dreading the possibility of having to join the cast, asking, “Why should I have to go on and butcher my own play? That’s what actors are for!”

With everyone at odds with each other, an influential American producer in the audience, and minutes until the curtain goes up, act 2 has the set flip around to reveal a shared dressing room with an attic full of costumes above. It’s in the dressing room that we learn more about the foibles of these characters, their fears and weaknesses.

Patrick seems afraid of finding success and having to leave Canada, Jessica (Megan Leitch) worries that she won’t live up to her previous performances, and Robert agonizes over the reception of his follow-up play. Meanwhile Phil (James Fagan Tait) is terrified he will “go dry” and forget his lines and Tom (Kamyar Pazandeh) arrives very late and very drunk.

Fagan Tait as the extremely melodramatic Phil and Ryan Beil as sensitive playwright Robert Ross were the stars of the show. Their over the top performances were perfect for this play of extremes and endless mishaps.

Eventually, the cast pulls together and demonstrates that even in the most extenuating of circumstances, the show must go on. For anyone who loves the theatre, especially Canadian theatre in all its quirkiness, Jitters is pure joy to watch.  

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