Breaking the fourth wall is a commonly used theatre device, especially in pantomimes.
Courtenay Little Theatre’s winter production of the Drowsy Chaperone, written by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, is no pantomime.
The show is described as a comedy within a musical, and its breaking of the fourth wall is not there solely as a means for humour; it is a way of drawing the audience into the play and telling the story of the Drowsy Chaperone.
The audience is spoken to by Man In Chair, an elderly man alone in his apartment. He puts on the record of his favourite musical, the Drowsy Chaperone, and as he listens to it, the show comes to life around him, transforming his small apartment into an elaborate set.
The Drowsy Chaperone — the musical within the comedy — is a show from 1928, with stagecraft from that era such as dream sequences, mistaken identities, and spit takes (a comic technique in which someone spits a beverage out of his or her mouth when he or she reacts to a statement) amongst other forms of hilarity.
Man In Chair is portrayed by Tony Arnold, longtime member of CLT and an award-winning actor in many community theatre productions.
Arnold is a well-known face to those who frequent the Sid Williams Theatre and was most recently seen in CLT’s production of The Winslow Boy, which was runner up for Best Production at the North Island Zone Drama Festival. Arnold was named Best Male Lead Actor.
“I love playing the Man In Chair because of his complexity,” Arnold says. “His passion and joy is the fantasy world of musical theatre, and I love the sly and witty comments he makes about the characters.”
But with the Man In Chair’s sense of humour comes a fear of the ‘real world,’ a place he considers full of ‘dreary horrors.’
The musical within a comedy aspect of the show brings a lot of fun with it. There is no intermission, for example, because Man In Chair decides not to take a break in between listening to the two records.
“A character talking to the audience is a convention often used in the theatre with varying success,” Arnold says. “In The Drowsy Chaperone it works really well because we get to enjoy the character of Man in Chair as well as the lively musical he so enthusiastically portrays for us.”
Man In Chair acts as a tour guide for the audience through the world of The Drowsy Chaperone. He is ready to share bits and pieces of trivia about the show with the audience, but is continually distracted by watching his favourite musical.
His story is just as important as the characters from the onstage musical, and by the end of the show, the audience has grown to care for him just as he cares for the characters in The Drowsy Chaperone.
Without Man In Chair, The Drowsy Chaperone would be just another musical, though a witty and satiric one; with him, the comedic musical begins to really mean something and the audience truly can connect to the show.
There are seven shows, opening Dec. 28 and running to January 4 at the Sid Williams Theatre in Courtenay. Evening shows are Dec. 28, 30, 31 and Jan. 2, 3, 4 starting at 7:30, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Dec. 29.
Tickets are already selling fast at the Sid Williams Ticket Centre. For more information, visit www.sidwilliamstheatre.com or phone 250-338-2430, ext. 1.
— Courtenay Little Theatre