There are two things in the current Arts Club Theatre Company production of Thomson Highway’s The (Post) Mistress that shine through: Patricia Cano’s performance and the play’s second act.
That isn’t to say there is nothing to like in the first half, but it comes largely from Cano’s performance as Marie-Louise Painchaud, the postmistress for the tiny town of Lovely, Ontario.
As Mary-Louise breaks down the fourth wall, she not only gossips about the people in the town she grew up in, she reaches into a seemingly endless supply of letters, and sings about them as well. The problem with this device, in the first act at least, is that it gets repetitive very quickly. While the music is varied and interesting, and sometimes her banter is funny, even inside the songs themselves there is repetition. Sing, dialogue, sing. Repeat. With someone less vocally skilled than Cano, it could have been disastrous.
The second half fares much better, helped by a revelation that brings things into perspective and an act two opening number that you wish would simply not end. Interestingly though, when that revelation is made (no spoilers here), the long dramatic pause that Cano takes did not appear to have much of an impact on the audience. Not to say that it doesn’t put a nice spin on the evening, but it is probably not the reaction the playwright (and Cano) were expecting.
Cano is aided by two onstage musicians playing piano (Bill Sample) and saxophone/flute (Bill Runge). Both handle Highway’s music with skill, and even manage a few laughs of their own as they help Marie-Louise refocus.
Ted Roberts’ massive set of mail slots is fun, and in the final moments of the play become a grand staircase to the heavens that is postcard perfect, and his projections on the scrim behind her help to bring us into the various worlds Marie-Louise creates. English subtitles are projected on the wall behind Cano at times (she also sings in French and Cree), but you may find yourself closing your eyes to simply listen to Cano’s dulcet tones without the distraction.
Patricia Cano is the reason to see this show. Her voice is heavenly.
The (Post) Mistress with book and music by Thomson Highway. Directed by John Cooper. An Arts Club Theatre Company production. On stage at the BMO Theatre Centre (162 West 1st Ave, Vancouver) until February 28. Visit http://artsclub.com for tickets and information.