Theatre Review: Not quite exquisite, but close

By Garth Paulson

Perfection is a rare occurrence. We spend our lives pursuing it, but most of us are lucky to come across perfection more than a handful of times. Despite its rarity, perfection occasionally pops up in the most unexpected of places. Whether a surreal sunset, a divine slice of cheesecake and, apparently, it can be found in the form of an encyclopaedia saleswoman. At least if we’re to believe Stewart Lemoine’s The Exquisite Hour.

Based upon the French poet Paul Verlaine’s “L’heure Exqusite”, The Exquisite Hour showcases the ideal moment occuring between Zachary Teale (Jeff Haslam) and Helen Darimont (Barbara Gates Wilson) when she unexpectedly shows up in his backyard selling a set of encyclopaedias.

Asking for an hour of Zach’s time, Barbara proceeds with the most elaborate and thorough sales pitch known to humanity, demonstrating not only the usefulness of the product but self-esteem, critical thinking and good old fashioned role playing as well.

Using the encyclopaedia volume for the letter H Barbara takes Zach on an adventure of self-discovery, showing him his capabilty to surpass seemingly impossible tasks like talking to the opposite sex.

It’s a simplistic premise, the play has a knowing innocence and naivety best exemplified in the performance of Gates Wilson. She plays the prim and proper, but constantly upbeat Barbara perfectly. Her energy, convincing delivery and beaming smile sustains The Exquisite Hour throughout its length, transforming the play into something truly endearing instead of the pristine public-service announcement it could have become.

The Exquisite Hour can’t quite escape its share of weaknesses. Some comedic portions feel forced, especially when Zach fumbles with German pronunciations. It’s occasionally too obvious, like the string of jokes occuring when Zach mistakes Barbara for a door-to-door evangelist.

At times, the whole thing feels a little too sweet for its own good. As nice as it is to believe somebody could overcome a lifelong nervousness of talking to girls by reading about St. Hubert’s experiences with a talking deer, the notion is difficult to swallow.

But it’s the twist at the end, unfortunately predictable, which lessens the impact of the play’s message. It transforms the production into an excessively orchestrated, not to mention neurotic, pick-up line.

Still, the play has its charms. The Exquisite Hour may not be the perfect hour Zach and Barbara have, but perfection in theatre is as hard to find as it is in anywhere else. In this case we’ll have to settle for merely enjoyable.

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