Romantic Comedy about Selling the House

Real Estate
By Allana Harkin
Performed by Scott Robert Fink, Keira Loughran, Carly Street, Brendan Wall.
Directed by D. Michael Dobbin
Grand Theatre Production
Grand Theatre, London
March 11 to March 29, 2008

Live! On Stage!
By Mary Alderson

Joel is a writer, who has churned out a couple of mystery novels, but now life’s crises are getting in the way, and he’s suffering writer’s block. His wife left him for another man, and his widowed elderly father has moved into a seniors’ residence, so Joel is back living in his parents’ lakeside home. But the bills have piled up and he’s forced to sell the house, which his Dad built for his Mom when they were newlyweds. His flaky real estate agent is determined that this will be her first sale. Then things get worse – his ex-wife shows up with her pretentious boyfriend, and his Dad dies.
And somehow, this is a romantic comedy on stage at London’s Grand Theatre. The plot has all the components for laughter and the writing is fairly clever. The tale has some suspense: we know Joel will end up with a woman – but which? He would love to reconcile with his estranged wife, yet he’s interested in his real estate agent.
The cast of Real Estate is impressive – all have interesting and extensive theatre backgrounds. Yet somehow, they have missed the mark. They haven’t pulled together to create the chemistry for good romantic comedy.
Scott Robert Fink is excellent as Joel. We get comfortable with him right away. In fact, as the audience was coming into the theatre, Joel was on stage, stretching and scratching, looking in the mirror and checking out the food stuck in his teeth. Joel is just on the verge of being labelled a loser, yet we recognize some redeeming features. Fink makes Joel a likeable guy and soon we’re on his side.
But then, along comes Emma, the real estate agent. She, too, is on the edge of loser-dom, and unfortunately, Keira Loughran, in playing the part, isn’t able to save the character. I think the playwright intended that we like Emma – she’s quirky but still we’d enjoy her company. Loughran failed to bring us on side. Loughran has an impressive background at the Stratford Festival; in fact, she was outstanding as Valeria in Coriolanus. But she lacks the facial features and comedic timing to make Emma likeable. The part calls for a Lucille Ball type – slightly too chatty, a little annoying, but we still love her.
Similarly, the casting of Carly Street as ex-wife Estelle is questionable. Again, Street has a remarkable theatre background, having played in the Toronto’s Lord of the Rings. But Street was unable to make us understand why Joel would want her back, after she cheated on him. Even when they kissed, the chemistry wasn’t there.
Brendan Wall plays the pretentious boyfriend Ted. Again, the character’s comedy hasn’t been fully developed. When the city-boy snob carrying his man-purse shows up in the country, there is potential for more laughs. His manner of speaking didn’t sound like a city lawyer-turned-business-tycoon – he dropped his “ing” endings (doin’, comin’), which belied his background.
The set is very good – the lakefront home among the trees is complete. It looks like any elderly couple’s home with the tacky old couch and chair and an array of family portraits on the wall. The front of the cottage lifts up and we are invited inside, not just peeking through the windows.
Director Michael Dobbin did much better in finding the comedy a few years ago with the Black Bonspiel of Wullie McCrimmon, a delightful play about curling which the Grand presented. Real Estate, written by Canadian Allana Harkin, has the potential to be a touching story with plenty of laughs, but it requires a cast with strong comedic timing the ability to create chemistry.
This show was sponsored by the London – St. Thomas Association of Realtors and on opening night the audience was made up real estate agents (I know this, having moved twice in the last seven years and buying & selling a couple of houses. I recognized several of them….). And the real estate agents appeared to be enjoying themselves. The best laugh of the evening was when Emma said that real estate agents also have to be psychologists. Their clients are going though change and stress, and the agent has to know how to deal with it. In the audience, many heads were nodding as the chuckles rippled across.
Real Estate continues at the Grand Theatre in London until 29. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.

Mary Alderson offers her view of area theatre in this column on a regular basis. As well as being a fan of live theatre, she is a former journalist who is currently employed with the Ontario Association of Community Futures Development Corporations.