‘Here we are at the beginning,” grins an excitable fellow at the top of For The Love of Cynthia, and though he’s quickly corrected (for reasons we’ll understand later), the meta-nature of the statement can’t be overlooked. Stewart Lemoine’s warmly madcap ode to new beginnings is the first show in a rebuilt Varscona Theatre so fresh it’s got a new-theatre smell. Cynthia sees the Teatro La Quindicina ensemble christening its long-awaited new home—a gorgeous theatre, both tall and intimate, offering the unusual feeling of it being both big and small at the same time.
Which is the perfectly improbable sort of place to host Lemoine’s comedies, where unlikely outcom/es are assured in their very unspooling. In Cynthia, set in 1957, an Alberta census taker, Hutton Hayes, (Ben Stevens) arrives at what he assumes is a hamlet; he quickly discovers it fancies itself an independent kingdom, complete with a king (Ron Pederson), a president (Michelle Diaz), a royal court (Jenny McKillop, Morgan Donald) a chancellor (Jeff Haslam) and a Norwegian consulate (Mathew Hulshof). Jean Boone (Paula Humby) works at the consulate and the general store and the bank; She and her brothers, Lyle (Mat Busby) and Hamish (Adam Houston), seem the most grounded of the bunch.
Hayes’ arrival is an International Event; his lack of a visa is an issue. But discerning how a place like Cynthia came to be proves a rollicking journey that rides the momentum of its own aplomb. It’s very funny: the Pederson/Haslam combo proves particularly deadly when they get rolling onstage—Hulshof too, as the consulate with a reluctant penchant for playwriting—but the 10-strong cast all get a moment or two to shine: to pay-off a punchline, to vamp in a song, to arrive onstage with fussed-up hair and stunned, wide-eyed silence.
The first half takes some time to find its purchase, as the world that is Cynthia and its people gets laid out. But after intermission, it coasts upwards on ripples of laughter from payoffs to those setups: a play-within-a-play happens, secrets get revealed and moments of tenderness emerge as balancing counterpoints to the comic gusto swirling all around. For The Love of Cynthia aims to delight and welcome, and succeeds in doing both.
Until Sat, Jun 18 (7:30 pm; 2 pm Saturday matinees)
Directed by Stewart Lemoine
Varscona Theatre, $20 – $34