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James Fagan Tait, Martin Happer, Kamyar Pazandeh, Megan Leitch

Take four actors with equally made-for-theatre-egos, place them in a production soon to open in an intimate Toronto playhouse in the late 70’s, watch them endure all manners of backstage shenanigans and stage fright, and you’re in for a hilarious night of comedic farce.

The Arts Club Theatre’s Jitters, considered “a bona fide Canadian classic” by the Toronto Star, is a story following a cast that dream of their humble show, The Care and Treatment of Roses, one day getting to Broadway.

Jitters cast

The stage set is a cozy room with well-worn furniture, floral wallpaper, hanging plants and a Christmas tree off to the corner.

To set the mood, The Cars’ 80’s hit, Let’s Go opens the first act, as we find the cast and crew on stage rehearsing one of the play’s scenes featuring theater diva Jessica Logan (Megan Leitch), Robert Moloney (Patrick Flanagan) and Phil Mastorakis (James Fagan Tait).

There’s already a sense of trouble brewing as the interaction between the three actors – and their director (Martin Happer) – creates constant interruption to the flow of the scene.

Early in the show, we also learn that Big Apple theater producer Bernie Feldman is set to attend opening night, already adding fuel to the current scenario: actors that can’t remember their lines, have trouble keeping egos in check, and are plagued by faulty costumes.

Ryan Beil, Megan Leitch, James Fagan Tait
[Ryan Beil, Megan Leitch, James Fagan Tait]

All the while, playwright Robin Ross (Ryan Beil) sits in the audience, trying to make sense of his play’s butchering and revisions by its actors. Ross’ shy personality gradually loosens as he’s later faced with the tremendous fear/pride of potentially filling in for one of the actors.

Egos waver hysterically, adding more backstage drama to an already crazed momentum in this play-within-a-play. With only four days to opening, tension mounts and anything that can go wrong inevitably does.

Megan Leitch

Director Martin Happer (George Ellsworth), together with stage manager Nick (Raugi Yi), assistant (Lauren Bowler, sporting a classic 70’s Toni Tennille hairdo) and front-of-house Susi (Kaitlin Williams) weave in and out of the scenes providing added texture and comedic moments during the three-act, one intermission show.

Some of the cast take seats in the audience while others are found running up and down the aisles, adding to the action and intimacy.

Megan Leitch does a fantastic job of portraying Jessica, a quintessential ego-driven actress with former big-time stage success. James Fagan Tait gets some of the biggest laughs – and applause post-show – as Phil, carrying through one of the most physically demanding roles of the cast.

Robert Moloney, Megan Leitch
[Robert Moloney, Megan Leitch]

Robert Moloney also shines as Patrick, matching egos (and fire) with Jessica. George Ellsworth as director walks the fine line between keeping his cast and playwright Robert Ross in check. Kamyar Pazandeh as Tom Kent does an admirable job as a young, up-and-coming actor. And nerdy, bespectacled Ryan Beil gets some great lines here as he watches his play go through its paces.

The two-level rotating set is detail-rich, thanks to the wizardry of Ted Roberts. We see the play’s main set transform to backstage, complete with upstairs wardrobe, vintage theater posters, make-up stations and a small office, all created to maximize the Stanley Industrial Alliance space.

Lauren Bowler, Megan Leitch, Raugi Yu, Martin Happer, James Fagan Tait, Robert Moloney
[Lauren Bowler, Megan Leitch, Raugi Yu, Martin Happer, James Fagan Tait, Robert Moloney]

Costume designer Mara Gottler gets the late 70’s costumes down pat. Those horribly mismatched shirts and bell bottoms that Patrick Flanagan sports contrasts nicely with Susi’s early 80’s Madonna threads, all part of the transitioning decade from rock and disco to pop, new wave and punk (an era this writer fondly remembers living through).

Anyone with a love of theater will appreciate the humour and nuttiness of Jitters.

Directed by David Mackay, Jitters continues at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage through February 25.

Top image, L to R: James Fagan Tait, Martin Happer, Kamyar Pazandeh, Megan Leitch. Photos by David Cooper.

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