By David French. Directed by David Mackay. An Arts Club Theatre Company production. At the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage on Thursday, February 1. Continues until February 25
“We are not adults. We’re actors.” This laugh-out-loud declaration comes deep into the final act of David French’s Jitters, a loving send-up of the fears and flaws of a small theatre company trying to make it to and through opening night.
There are antics and shenanigans, one-liners and wild physical comedy, and if that’s not enough, the Arts Club’s new production is set in 1979, the year Jitters was first produced, so the fashion is its own source of inspired hilarity (thanks to wonderful work by costume designer Mara Gottler).
Jitters begins four days before the opening night of a new play, and almost every single character has a lot riding on its success. Robert (Ryan Beil), the playwright, has spent three years on this follow-up after his debut earned critical raves, while Jessica (Megan Leitch), the star, is finally returning to Canada after having major success on New York and London stages. After two flops in two years, she hopes that after the play’s Toronto run, it will move to Broadway. This is essentially a nightmare for her leading man and rival, Patrick (Robert Moloney), a bully with a drinking problem and deep fear of failure who also happens to be Canada’s best actor. Director George (Martin Happer) doesn’t just have his hands full managing his leads, he’s also dealing with Phil (James Fagan Tait), a desperately insecure actor who has complaints about everything, and Tom (Kamyar Pazandeh), a young, first-time actor.
Under David Mackay’s joyful direction, Jitters mostly buzzes along, though some cast members seem more comfortable with the rapid-fire dialogue and the physical comedy than others. When Beil, Happer, or Tait is in a scene, the energy immediately ticks up and the pacing is perfect. When the attention focuses elsewhere, Jitters loses a bit of steam. Thankfully, these moments are few and far between, and only minorly distract from an otherwise relentlessly entertaining experience.
Almost four decades after its original production, Jitters holds up, and in part it’s because there’s little malice at its core. In Jitters, every disaster, every personality excess, and every drama is big but still rooted in something very real and recognizable—fear—which only makes the laughs that much more meaningful. It’s such an indulgent pleasure to engage in metatheatre of this calibre (owing to both the Arts Club’s standards and the quality of French’s writing). It’s not always a thrill to watch a play about a play, but it is when it’s like this: biting, affectionate, and funny in equal measure.