A ‘farce’, or “a comic dramatic work using buffoonery and horseplay and typically including crude characterization and ludicrously improbable situations”, is the perfect way to define Nurse Jane Goes to Hawaii. Despite the clever title, no characters travel to Hawaii and the audience never meets Nurse Jane; instead, a host of seemingly unrelated characters enter and are trapped within the same house. The unchanging set features a series of doors that allow new characters to enter and exit the Chisholm home quickly, each bringing a new soap opera trope to the mix, from long lost children to mistaken identity to adultery.
The eccentric play, directed by Mark Mooney, begins as the young and ecstatic harlequin writer Vivien Bliss (Melissa Metler) arrives at the home of Edgar Chisholm (David Pasquino), believing his wife to be gone for the weekend. The secretive lovers quickly learn that Doris Chisholm (Lori Fellner) is in fact home, having skipped her business trip as an advice columnist to conduct interviews at home. This encounter leads to the smashing of homemade ceramics and the entrance of a supposed pervert and old friend with pantyhose over his head, a journalist determined to expose an affair, a long lost son, and a vicious editor.
The London Community Players handled the outrageous humour with a sense of self-awareness that perfects the show’s comedic timing. This awareness also feels like a wink to the audience, as the melodramatic tropes and slapstick comedy would otherwise feel cheesy. Although the extensive amount of slapstick humour felt inauthentic, or perhaps forced compared to the rest of the show, the explosive moments add to the campy nature of the performance. The sitcom style set also contributed to the hyperbolic style of the show; with the proper laugh track it could be a hit TV program.
Melissa Metler’s portrayal of romance novelist Vivien Bliss brought comedic breaks and kept the audience laughing through the entire show as she narrates her novel into a recorder, turning the wacky situations of the day into Nurse Jane’s adventure into the thick jungle of Hawaii. Her angry editor becomes Helga, the evil Russian physicist and she mirrors the character development of Nurse Jane’s nemesis to the eventual turn around of Doris who comes to like her unexpected guest. Every disastrous event becomes an adventure to Vivien, even as an intruder breaks in she narrates from the bedroom, not wanting the man to see her indecent in her pyjamas. Lori Fellner’s Doris Chisholm had a natural ease on stage, smashing pottery and talking to her advice columnist alter ego with grace. Her façade of narcissism perfectly reflects soap opera archetypes and makes her bizarre backstory all the more entertaining.
Canadian playwright Allan Stratton recognizes the challenge of properly handling a farce, stating his disappointment to Words in Play, “No wonder ‘farce’ has a questionable reputation. Most productions are appalling. I have personally had to flee performances of Nurse Jane to throw up, distraught and ashamed that audiences might think what they saw was what I wrote”. The Palace Theatre’s production would not have disappointed Stratton in the least. The motley crew of characters bring disasters every time they walk through the door, and although exaggerated, the performance presents the humour in a manner that is self-aware.
The London Community Player’s production of Nurse Jane Goes to Hawaii runs at the Palace Theatre from January 19th to January 28th. More information about tickets can be found on their website.