From left, the ensemble cast of Jody Tkach, Dave Bigelow, Mell Frost and Sherri Wade work through their middle-age dating difficulties in a scene from the Bard to Broadway production of Looking. The show plays through Aug. 15 at Village Theatre in Qualicum Beach. — J.R. Rardon photo

Bard to Broadway offers a show worth looking into

Ensemble cast clicks at Qualicum Beach’s Village Theatre

The Bard to Broadway production of Looking has no flashy costumes, physical conflict or song-and-dance numbers. Its set is a spare, static backdrop that stands in for venues ranging from a gym locker room, a bar, a radio studio and an office. There are only four characters.

But Looking has everything it needs in a veteran ensemble cast and the cutting wit of Toronto playwright Norm Foster, guided by the steady hand of seven-time B2B director Eileen Butts.

Looking tells the story of four middle-aged singles, three of them divorced, who dive into the hilariously turbulent flow of mid-life dating. The July 7 opening night drew a sold-out crowd to Village Theatre in Qualicum Beach, and it was treated to a clinic in dialogue-driven comedic storytelling.

Dave Bigelow, in his third B2B show, plays Andy, a struggling businessman in his late-40s — “early 50s,” his buddy, Matt, reminds him — who is looking for a woman with whom to start a meaningful relationship. Jody Tkach, another Bard veteran with several lead roles already to her credit, is Val, a divorced operating room nurse who has voluntarily climbed out of the dating pool for years while waiting for the ideal man to magically drop into her life, and has now decided to dive back in by answering Andy’s personal ad.

She coaxes reluctant girlfriend Nina (B2B newcomer Sherri Wade) to come along on the blind date for support after soliciting a promise from Andy that he’ll bring his friend Matt (Mell Frost, a B2B rookie who has appeared in several other mid-Island productions).

Laughter-inducing chaos predictably ensues, with Andy and Val’s date going off the rails quickly and emphatically while the rather-be-anywhere-else duo of Matt and Nina promptly hit it off, leave the bar together and race straight for the bedroom.

That, however, is just the start of a series of reversals and re-tries, as circumstances continue to drag the foursome back into each other’s orbits.

This is a true ensemble production, with no one actor in the “lead” role. Bigelow and Tkach, well-seasoned stage leads, are both highly expressive, with Bigelow particularly able to portray exasperation, confusion and obliviousness without uttering a word.

In Wade, a former semi-professional actress who is making her return to the stage after a 20-year absence, director Butts has been blessed with a second genuine female lead. Wade demonstrates the uncanny comic timing and pace of delivery of a classic “straight man” as the cynical Nina opposite Tkach’s flighty and excitable Val, and appears to have lost none of her skills during her self-imposed stage exile.

Frost holds his own with his formidable castmates through Matt’s well-meaning but occasionally misguided attempts to support Andy’s efforts. And it’s Frost who delivers the climactic monologue that puts each character in their place at show’s end.

Strategic spotlighting and background dimming direct the audience’s attention as the stage is occasionally used for more than one scene at a time. This is taken to its extreme at the end of the opening act, when all four characters appear under separate spotlights in a flawlessly executed, syncronized four-way phone call that left the audience cheering the actors into intermission.

While Looking falls just short of bawdy, it is an adult-themed show and contains a bit of non-gratuitous strong language. For those looking for an entertaining night out without the kids, this production is definitely worth, well, looking into.

Looking begins a run of three consecutive nights beginning Monday, July 16. Additional shows are held the evenings of July 27 and 28, and Aug. 1, 7, 8, and 15, all at 7:30 p.m.

A matinee showing will be presented Sunday, Aug. 6. beginning at 2:30 p.m.

For tickets and more info, call 250-752-4470 or visit www.b2btheatre.com. Village Theatre is located at 110 W. 2nd Ave. in downtown Qualicum Beach.

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