It begins at the end. Billy is on the phone, begging for his call to be answered. Jessie, screaming, demands that the crazy guy wielding the chainsaw put it down. How do the characters arrive at this bizarre situation? Follow along as the plot rewinds to the beginning and launches the audience toward the end.
Dan Jeannotte and Caitlin Howden literally spin into and between characters as the only actors in Downstairs Cabaret's production of Real Time. Each actor plays at least five characters, each one with his or her own particular eccentricities. Producing Director Christopher Kawolsky scouted this production at Toronto's Fringe Festival, where Real Time was named as one of the "Best of the Fest."
Friends with playwright Matt Alden, Jeannotte and Howden were asked to step in to the festival's production at the last minute. The pair had only one week to prepare, of which one day was spent helping friends move and another traveling. As seasoned improvisers --- both are members of Montreal's Uncalled For Improv --- the two are practiced at thinking on their feet. And, while they stick to the script, it's apparent that the pair enjoys catching each other off guard, twisting a line or exaggerating a character in order to draw a giggle. Although the basic plot remains each time it's performed, Real Time lends itself to slight changes that will make each performance unique.
"If you liked Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Little Miss Sunshine, you'll love Real Time!" states Downstairs Cabaret's website. That ain't propaganda! Much like Little Miss Sunshine, the comedy of Real Time portrays true-to-life situations, played out by exaggerated characters. Much like Eternal Sunshine, time shifts and moves, overlaps and jumps, and, in the end, love conquers all.
When Billy (Jeannotte) partners with Jessie (Howden) on an Internet gaming site, the brash gal and cyber geek guy discover an odd attraction. She's on probation after beating the tar out of a drunken frat boy. He is a socially retarded programmer who lives with his emasculating mother. She needs serious anger management counseling and, pitted against a sweet but cowardly mama's boy, the pair is the Internet's answer to Romeo and Juliet. They have one thing in common: they are outsiders. As Jessie's Grampa says, "opposites attract."
In a brilliant bit of staging, Jeannotte and Howden take on their cyber gaming characters in battling the Goblin King. At some point, Jeannotte transforms into the aforementioned King (a character brilliantly originated by a spandex-clad David Bowie in the Jim Henson classic Labyrinth) and, thanks to lighting by Jay Moscowitz, Jeannotte's shadow looms large over the battle ready Jessie. Side-by-side, without ever touching, the King combats Jessie with vigor. The actors' creative physicality is what makes this complicated storyline clear and engaging.
The actors work without props, instead relying on pantomime. Just two chairs and a table work as the set, pushed together and yanked apart to create bedrooms, porch swings, and cars. Simple hoodies help the actors change from one character to another. These actors transform a bare stage into an entire world that their many characters realistically inhabit.
As Billy, Jeannotte dons glasses, naiveté, and a snorting laugh. As Vic, Jessie's ex-con, ex-boyfriend, Jeannotte throws his hood over his face and tacks on a tough guy bravado. Howden, as Jessie, ties her hoodie around her waist and attacks life. To become Billy's snobbish British mother, Howden ties that same hoodie around her shoulders (in true L.L.Bean style) and shoves her nose into the air.
When asked their favorite characters to play, Jeannotte answers, "I like playing Billy, especially when he gets excited or nervous." He explains that this character has grown more spastic over time. Howden gleefully responds, "Cindy the Waitress." By far, her smallest role. "I just feel like I can be a total idiot on stage," Howden explains. A doltish Valley girl with the ego of a socialite PhD, Cindy allows an actress complete freedom.
With characters worthy of The Kids in the Hall or Little Britain, sketch comedy connoisseurs will be in heaven. In the end, this production is simply gut-splitting, knee-slapping, piss-your-pants hilarious.
Real Time | through December 3 | Downstairs Cabaret Theatre 2, 172 West Main Street | $18-$21 | 325-4370, www.downstairscabaret.com.