Review: The Exquisite Hour by Relephant Theatre
Relephant Theatre's The Exquisite Hour is an endlessly charming play celebrating the capacity for a life to change in 60 short minutes. It is a playful, imaginative, and unapologetically traditional piece of theatre that feels like a love letter to the art form from Canadian playwright Stewart Lemoine.
The story, set in the early, idyllic 1960's, unfolds over a single hour in Zachary Teale's backyard – an office worker at a department store. The role is played with tender-hearted earnestness by Josue Laboucane. Arriving home in his vest, tie, and short sleeves, he sets out a tray of lemonade, tends to his garden in a manner that is both beleaguered and fastidious, and he sinks into a lawn chair, closing his eyes.
No sooner has he settled in, than the bright-eyed and ebullient Mrs. Darimont sneaks around the fence and into the yard. Played with gusto by actress Nevada Yates Robart, Mrs. Darimont is forward and impeccably-mannered as she initiates small talk. Zachary is cagey, awkward, yet subtly intrigued as he tries to suss out the reason behind the charming young woman's sudden appearance. After Zachary promises to give Mrs. Darimont the next hour of his life, she reveals her purpose – she has come to sell Zachary a set of encyclopedia.
What follows is a whimsical story that, in the shortest of windows, does what theatre does best. Mrs. Darimont challenges Zachary to play out a series of imaginary scenarios using knowledge he has gained from randomly selected articles in volume H of the encyclopedia. This provides a delightful framework for the two actors to transport us from the backyard as they imaginatively play out a number of scenarios – from a pair of colleagues at a company picnic, to tense patients at a dentist's office, to the hunting St. Hubert confronting a talking deer (an absolutely unforgettable turn by Yates Robart).
Throughout the course of these playful exchanges, Zachary transforms. The stodgy, guarded figure we first met becomes swept away by the undeniable enthusiasm of Yates Robart's Mrs. Darimont. Over the course of a mere 60 minutes, the audience sees her coax out a passionate and adventurous man who had been sublimated by tedium. The transformation is wonderful to behold and the play's surprising ending – which will not be ruined here – is heart-melting in its earnestness.
Special kudos should be given to Director Julie McIsaac, in whom the actors clearly place enormous amounts of trust. The play is so traditional and innocent that it could easily come off as cheesy if the actors possessed any scrap of doubt or self-consciousness. McIsaac's careful guidance ensures that Laboucane and Yates Robart never come near these hazards. Rather, their total belief in and utter commitment to the sometimes silly happenings serves to make the work all the more touching.
The Exquisite Hour challenges its audience to be innocent, open-hearted, and to abandon all cynicism and pretense. The experience may very well be as transformative as the effect of a certain Mrs. Darimont on one Zachary Teale for viewers who rise to the challenge.The Exquisite Hour runs until May 12 at the Revue Stage on Granville Island. Tickets available at VancouverTix.com.