“George is absolutely bowled ‘agoogaly’ by his wife’s announcement,” said actor Brian Young, who plays George Harper in Upper Canada Playhouse’s new comedy, Wife Begins At Forty, coming August 2 until the 26th. “He thought he was happily married, nicely content and all was well. And then his wife Linda informs him that after 17 years of marriage, she wants a change. And he isn’t part of it.”
George’s frantic efforts to save his marriage and his happy domesticity are the subject of the Playhouse’s sparkling Arne Sultan, Earl Barret and Ray Cooney comedy, Wife Begins At Forty. Set in the home George and Linda share with their teenaged son, Leonard, George’s elderly father, Bernard, and the family dog, Chopper, the play reflects the ups and downs of married life with a sure and very funny touch.
The play has all the traditional and hilarious trappings of farce, but Richard Bauer, who directs the production, describes Wife as “a family farce. Not so many doors slamming. And we have a tremendous backstage crew. They definitely control the chaos and keep us in line. John Thompson designed our set and Sean Free built it and is handling our technical side.”
Bauer, who plays the role of neighbour Roger Dixon, also has a strong and talented cast with which to work comedy magic.
Fresh from the outstanding Playhouse production of Here on the Flight Path, is Melanie Janzen as Betty Dixon.
“I think I am trying to channel Ethel Mertz (from the classic I Love Lucy show) in this role,” Janzen explained at the press conference. “Betty is supportive and wise in her own way and she understands that marriage does have its trials.”
As Roger, Bauer describes his character as “a bit of a cad and a playboy. He and Betty sort of stir the pot and offer advice to the Harpers. In fact, Roger is trying to ‘arrange George’s affairs.’”
Walter Learning who directed Flight Path, plays Bernard, George’s elderly father, a former R. A. F. pilot from World War II.
“Bernard is full of vim and vigor and he loves life, including his little flirtations with Mrs. D.,” Learning laughs. “It’s true that he’ll share war stories with anyone who will listen, and he has become a bit forgetful by times, but he has a deep affection for his family.”
That family also includes grandson Leonard, played by UCP newcomer, Kyle Orzech.
“It’s been wonderful here at Upper Canada Playhouse,” the 22-year-old actor said. “I’m very comfortable in this role, working with older people. (“Not that old,” the rest of the cast chimed in). Sorry, ‘seasoned professionals’ I should say. Leonard is a typical 17-year-old, more interested in doing his own thing. Frankly, Leonard can be a bit of a punk, living for himself. But it is great to play this character.”
The focal point of the comedy is the obviously changing relationship between George and Linda, a married couple played by Brian Young and Alison Lawrence, who are, in fact, an actual married couple.
“Yes, we met doing a production of Wrong For Each Other,” Young laughed. “Turned out we were right for each other.”
Is it challenging to be a genuine couple and to play a couple breaking up?
“Brian and I have worked together seven times,” Lawrence explained. “On stage we have developed a kind of ‘short hand’ and that makes it easier to get into our characters. We separate real life from the acting.”
“Since George and Linda have intimate moments together,” Young added, “it’s really so much easier doing them with your actual wife.”
The last cast member is South Dundas boy, Chopper Thom, a Golden Retriever making his acting debut as Chopper Harper, the family dog.
“It was a little challenging holding dog auditions,” director Bauer said. “We brought Chopper out for audiences and asked them to clap and shout, and he seemed quite comfortable. Of course, a dog can upstage you,” he added with a laugh, “so he keeps the rest of the actors on their toes.”
“Chopper is a joy,” Learning said. “He loves everyone.”
Laughter is set to begin again at Upper Canada Playhouse on August 2 when this newest production in the theatre’s outstanding summer season opens its doors.
Tickets for Wife Begins At Forty are available at the box office or by calling 613-543-3713.