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Bankrupt: A sexy comedy/musical mashup at the Gladstone

By Barbara Popel on March 3, 2015

Bankrupt is a very enjoyable – and slightly smutty – comedy by Ottawa playwright Stéphanie Turple.  Her 2011 French play, Banqueroute, was translated into English and workshopped in 2013, and has now been brought to The Gladstone by Plosive Productions.  It’s a dandy bedroom farce/musical mashup with some great comic moments.  Judging from the laughter during the play and the comments in the lobby afterwards, the opening night audience really enjoyed themselves.

I’m not sure if the original play featured songs written by Ottawa’s superb soul/funk/blues group, The PepTides, but their lyrics certainly enhance the play.  There’s also one of The PepTides on-stage – laconic keyboardist Scott Irving – playing electric piano and occasionally singing a few lines of commentary.  Unfortunately, none of the cast are very impressive as singers.  They can all carry a tune, but projection and diction could be better.  Director Kevin Orr has come up with a splendid solution to this:  all of the lyrics are projected on the back wall.  In one case, they scroll in a delicious manner across the stage.  Projections are also used in a most amusing manner for erudite quotes from notables ranging from William Blake to Malcolm Forbes.

These learned sayings are spouted by James (the estimable Richard Gélinas) and are directed at Anna (a sensual Gabrielle Lazarovitz).  James is the tightly-wound bankruptcy councillor whom Anna has, in desperation, resorted to.  Anna is a shopaholic airline attendant with a mountain of unpaid bills.  Horrified at what bankruptcy will do to her profligate lifestyle (she has no friends and no interests other than buying designer clothes), Anna decides to take another route out of bankruptcy, namely the world’s oldest profession.

Naturally (this being a bedroom farce), James unwittingly arrives in Anna’s bordello bedroom as her first client.  (James may be tightly wound, but he’s also a pretty randy guy.)  He’s distraught to see her there, but Anna is rather charmed.

Incidentally, we soon learn that James became a bankruptcy councillor after he himself declared bankruptcy.  Which brings me to…

…James’ former wife, Miranda (Teri Loretto-Valentik), whose money James spent trying to run his own business. Miranda is a real virago, even more tightly wound than James and insufferable to be around.  Oh yes, she’s also recently become blind. Literally, not just metaphorically.  But she does get some of the best lines and an opportunity to do a great When Harry Met Sally schtick about “the big O”.  As does Anna.  If these two scenes don’t bring the house down, it means there are no women in the audience.

The cast is rounded out by James’ and Miranda’s frat boy son, Juan (a hilarious Diego Arvelo).  Juan (“Why did you name me Juan?  I sound like a soccer player or a drug dealer.”) is a real piece of work – hormonal, self-entitled, striving, and just as obsessed with money as his parents.  The thing he most desires is to start his own business (with his mother’s money, natch).  “What we need are three things – order, discipline and Chinese suppliers.”  He’s never worked a day in his life. He’s terrified his wealthy frat brothers will find out he doesn’t have a trust fund.

In a way, money should be credited as one of the characters of the play.  Conversations invariably circle back to it, and when it’s not being discussed, it’s being lusted after or is being exchanged.

Sex is the play’s other leitmotif.  Early on, Anna sings, “Titillation is a lost art”.  Not quite so in this production.  As a prostitute, Anna does a credible job of mimicking how she thinks “escorts” behave with their clients.  James and Juan ramp up the testosterone, with a soupcon of male insecurity.  And Miranda discovers her true sexual self.

All in all, a very enjoyable 100-minute romp.  I recommend you bring your BFF, your spouse, your boyfriend, your girlfriend, your stockbroker, and/or your banker to The Gladstone for Bankrupt.

Bankrupt is at The Gladstone until March 14, 2015. For Information and tickets, click here.