The Communication Cord is light comedic fare that delivers plenty of laughs and will especially delight lovers of Irish—or, for that matter, British—comedy.
The plot’s genesis is simple enough. Junior linguistics lecturer Tim Gallagher (David Whiteley) has a scheme to borrow the ancestral Donegal home of his lawyer friend Jack McNeilis (Tim Oberholzer) for an hour in an effort to impress Senator Doctor Donovan (Alain Chamsi), father of his sweetheart Susan (Kat Smiley). The scheme goes horribly and hilariously awry when unexpected houseguest Claire Harkin (Michelle LeBlanc) refuses to play along. Occpupants of the already full house include local busybody Nora Dan (Janet Uren), wealthy German Barney the Banks (Steve Martin), Jack’s (current) French ladyfriend Evette Giroux (Geneviève Sirois)—with an unexpected connection of her own—and the house itself, which seems to be possessed of a mischievous nature. All together, it’s a recipe for a drawing-room farce of constant confusion and compounded miscommunication.
At its most basic level, the one that will reach the majority of the audience, The Communication Cord is simply a well-crafted farce proceeding from deception to deception, gaining momentum as more and more elements are introduced. Although playwright Brian Friel is by no means an unknown writer, he’s not quite a household name, at least in Canada. But then, it is director John P. Kelly’s mission to highlight the work of unsung (again, on our shores) contemporary Irish playwrights. A ready audience of Hibernophiles and Anglophiles is not in short supply, and some may even pick up on the distinctly Irish themes within the play, farce it may be, but it contains a subtle commentary on Ireland’s identity in Europe. Even if the subtleties of social commentary pass unnoticed, there remains a close affinity between the Canadian and Irish national aesthetics: Irish theatre being primarily a theatre of the educated or well-read working class. Probably without the Irish contributions to English literature throughout the 20th century, our culture would have been deprived of much of its richness and evolution. It’s not only the “big names” like Wilde, Joyce, and Beckett that are worthy of consideration, and productions like these help to expand our familiarity with a rich dramatic and literary tradition.
As far as the cast is concerned, they work very well together. Whiteley and Oberholzer have worked together many times on the Gladstone stage; here they are quite well-suited to each other and the pair who, as they must, have the best and most fluid chemistry. I get the impression that Oberholzer and Smiley, at least, have mellowed their potential Irish accents to give a more even level to the cast, not all of whom are equally adept at dialect. This equalization benefits the performance greatly. Janet Uren (who herself runs a local community theatre company dedicated to twentieth-century classic English theatre, Linden House Theatre) has the right look and attitude to portray Nora Dan; her performance could benefit from more quickly-paced delivery. LeBlanc attains her usual high calibre as a flirtatious young woman, although Claire is the most problematic character in the piece from a dramatic perspective since her actions seem to have no discernible motivation. Whether this is a defect in the text, or there is a subtlety lost in either the director’s or actor’s interpretation, it is impossible to say, but it is noticeable and baffling in such a major character. Steve Martin deserves special mention; he is not simply on stage because he co-owns the Gladstone. He very much deserves to be there as the rightfully scene-stealing Barney, who is another level of comedy all his own. He pulls off a lovable, inoffensive German—the foreign element—with a degree of personal slapstick.
Once again, David Magladry’s set is on good enough for television. It is tantamount to a diorama of an Irish country home (what we might term a cottage) down to the last detail, and there are a few surprises in its structure and integrated lighting. Light and the lack thereof do play an important part in the action of the piece. It’s evident that great care has gone into every aspect of the scenography.
In brief, The Communication Cord delivers precisely what’s promised: light yet satisfying farce, with characters that are remarkably three-dimensional for stereotypes.
The Communication Cord is playing at the Gladstone until April 14. Tickets are $23 to $39.