Buying the Moose
Reviewed by Peter Janes, Theatre In London, February 5, 2015
Why buy the moose when you can get the milk for free?
London playwright Michael Wilmot’s Buying the Moose is receiving two debuts this week. Based on this evening’s preview, Dubuque, Iowa’s Bell Tower Theater will have its work cut out to match London Community Players’ crack at the script.
After Frank Sinatra’s Love and Marriage led up to an inauspicious start—a computer glitch requiring a complete reset of the lighting system—Buying the Moose redeemed itself quickly. In a sitcom-style teaser scene, the strains of Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers reveal Rob (Johnny Bobesich) awkwardly canoodling with an inflatable doll. Naturally, his wife Betty (Aleen Kelledjian) arrives home at just the wrong moment and discovers the pair, and the fun begins.
What could easily be a simple dumb sex farce instead becomes an entertaining character-driven ensemble comedy piece. Wilmot’s script is funny above all, but also perceptive, pointed, and, on occasion, even insightful.
The first act is like watching a tennis game at the bottom of a canyon, presenting alternating conversations between Rob and his brother Greg (Steve Favro) and Betty and her sister-in-law Cheryl (Kathleen Morrison) that echo and feed back into one another. It’s hampered slightly by some stiffness early in the performances—perhaps a deliberate decision by director Tim Condon to accentuate the building fluidity that comes as bottles are opened, or possibly due to the technical issues—but soon becomes more natural. The unresolved question that remains at intermission doesn’t seem like a lot to go on for the second act, but Wilmot has some surprises up his characters’ sleeves.
The second act is more traditional in form as the entire ensemble starts to interact directly, and it’s the stronger for it. After the large quantities of alcohol imbibed by all of the characters earlier in the play (responsibly), Kelledjian’s Betty is the only one who’s visibly drunk, although all are happy; that’s a quibble at best, but given the strong cast it seems like an oversight.
Condon’s set design, primarily comprising an urban patio and front porch, is minimal but evocative; it’s helped by Cailyn Leigh’s usually-subtle sound design. The production avoids a personal pet peeve by having the characters’ cell phones actually ring rather than playing sound effects that are invariably misplaced in the mix. In addition, the personalized ringtones chosen by each character for his or her partner are particularly apt.
“Buying the moose” is an in-joke that some of the characters don’t get. Buying the Moose is a clever, lighthearted play that may introduce some in-jokes… and other things… into the audience’s real-life relationships.
Peter Janes is a London-based playwright, director, and producer, and was a member of the Brickenden Awards core panel from 2007 to 2011. Since 2008 he has been the editor and webmaster of Theatre in London.ca.
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