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Shrunken Heads gets big laughs

St. Albert Theatre Troupe production points out foibles of our fast-paced lives

By: Anna Borowiecki

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Apr 30, 2014 06:00 am

HYDE CAN'T HIDE – Mark McGarrigle plays stressed-out psychiatrist Robert Hyde, who is harassed by neurotic patient-stalker Dorothy Putnam, played by Rita Jensen, in Shrunken Heads.
HYDE CAN'T HIDE – Mark McGarrigle plays stressed-out psychiatrist Robert Hyde, who is harassed by neurotic patient-stalker Dorothy Putnam, played by Rita Jensen, in Shrunken Heads.
APRIL BARTLETT/St. Albert Gazette

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Review

Shrunken Heads
St. Albert Theatre Troupe
May 1 to 4, 8 to 10
Kinsmen Hall
47 Riel Dr.
Dinner theatre tickets: $50/regular; $45/student, senior; $45/group. Call 780-222-0102 or purchase online at stalberttheatre.com.

Developing a trusting relationship between patient and psychiatrist is critical for therapy to work. And usually that therapy is conducted at the office.

If a patient arrives screaming at the psychiatrist’s residence, there’s a good chance the police would be called and the patient might find himself facing a court appearance.

That is the key distinction between reality and Meir Ribalow’s Shrunken Heads now entering its second weekend at the Kinsmen Hall.

As the closing show of St. Albert Theatre Troupe’s dinner theatre season, Shrunken Heads is a featherweight farce full of good jokes, verbal and physical comedy. Throughout its two-hour-plus journey, Ribalow ridicules psychiatry, patients, marriage, divorce, youth, education and differing generational values.

The characters leap through a series of hoops that create nothing but stress. By the end, you wonder if Ribalow is questioning if common sense fits into our full-throttle lifestyles.

Dr. Robert Hyde could be any big-city psychiatrist dashing off to his posh weekend retreat. Upon his arrival he expects a neck massage and a good stiff drink, lovingly prepared by his young wife Polly.

Instead, a stalker-patient, unable to respect patient-doctor boundaries, has tailed Hyde to his country retreat. With tornado-like velocity and force, the highly neurotic Dorothy Putnum bursts into his house demanding full attention.

Revelling between paranoia and hysteria, the redheaded fireball stalks him like a cougar on the prowl, purring seductive one-liners such as “you’re the saccharine in my coffee.”

Just as Dorothy shifts into high gear, Dr. Bob’s pretentious ex-wife Jennifer waltzes in demanding Dr. Bob’s behind-in-alimony payments. This guy just can’t get a break.

And then there’s their daughter, Caroline, a multi-college dropout who meditates to commune with the universe. But the purpose of her father-daughter visit is to ask for money. She is trekking to Colorado with Carlyle Hiram Peckinpah III, a.k.a. the flavour of the month.

The clean-cut Car, as he’s referred to, is a cowboy at heart on a quest for wide-open spaces. He’s also a college dropout and his theories on human evolution are summed up as “civilized society is corrupting the psyche.”

The final piece of this wacko ensemble is Norman, Dorothy’s blue-collar taxi driver husband. Driven to distraction and jealousy by his diva-esque wife, Norman nevertheless loves Dorothy and tries to cart her home.

Dorothy misleads him into believing she’s having an affair with Hyde. Norman bursts in waving a gun with one comic disaster after another following in his wake.

Mark McGarrigle, known for creating larger-than-life characters, once again delivers fire and intensity to the role as Dr. Bob. He brings to the stage implacable pomposity when declaring, “I don’t have problems. I’m a psychiatrist.”

It’s a great setup line, and from that point on, McGarrigle reveals a weak, dithering character who’s unable to make a single decision without using a blustery string of bafflegab that confounds everybody.

Strong momentum

Rachel Cheechoo as the elegant ex-wife Jennifer is the ultimate snob who’s prepared to skewer anyone at a moment’s notice. Ribalow gives Jennifer some of the play’s wittiest lines and Cheechoo makes the most of it.

Almost every line is brilliantly shellacked with a polite but pretentious aristocratic disdain. At first it’s funny. But ultimately, Jennifer’s vinegar wit becomes a lens that simply broadcasts her loneliness.

As the loopy Dorothy, Rita Jensen’s fantastic energy keeps the momentum going strong. Through a series of pratfalls and physical comedy, Jensen transforms her character from a neurotic, strident, well-dressed woman to a feminine look-a-like version of Chucky the doll from horror movie fame.

Bob Locicero, one of the company’s strongest character actors, has a knack for playing soft-hearted gruff characters. And as Norman he explores a wide berth of emotions, from anger, frustration and confusion to affection, tenderness and devotion.

Adrienne McGarrigle as the idealistic New Age daughter discovering her place in the cosmos is not above squeezing Dad for money. And the two McGarrigles, real-life father and daughter, convey a familial chemistry that is completely natural and relatable.

Jesse Setke as Car, in his debut performance with St. Albert Theatre Troupe, discloses an easygoing comedic touch, and veteran actor Kate Elliott as Polly Hyde, Dr. Bob’s younger wife, is the anchor that keeps the characters from spiralling out of control.

Elliott’s Polly is a hostess who can make a great cup of coffee and puts everyone at ease. And although she’s the least educated of the bunch, Polly exudes a firm but gentle common sense style that keeps the entire household from spinning out of control.

The final nod goes to Sandra McCallum (Wife Begins at Forty, Hotbed Hotel) in her directorial debut with the company. McCallum ushers the play in with a gentle hand and allows her strong cast to find their way through the twisting furrows of Ribalow’s writing.

Shrunken Heads does a good job of pointing out that there are many stresses in life. In this case, shedding the stress is helped with a good glass of wine and a good many laughs.

The play runs May 1 to 4 and May 8 to 10.


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