Bold and beautiful Pageant
An absurd, physical comedy about finding out that beauty's more than skin deep.
by Kate Watson
Pageant is the story of a small town beauty queen (played with irresistible perkiness by Kate Lavender) whose future and features are shattered by an over-reaching plastic surgeon (Marty Burt). Her boorish boyfriend (Matthew Thomas Walker) exacts revenge, and then determines that his girlfriend is no longer a prize worth fighting for. Only Trudy's father (Brian Heighton, in a brilliantly understated performance) can see her inner beauty. Sounds straightforward, right? But in the hands of Saskatchewan playwright Daniel Macdonald, it's like seeing the world through beveled glass; everything is slightly warped. (And I mean warped in a humourous, good way.) Inspired physical comedy and catchy dialogue makes for big laughs, but there is depth here, too. The absurdity of this play mirrors the absurdity of the value our society places on physical beauty.
Pageant deals with beauty obsession
DMV is back in town with a play about revenge, redemption and a small-town beauty queen.
Pageant, by Saskatchewan playwright Daniel Macdonald, is directed by Pamela Halstead, artistic director of Calgary’s Lunchbox Theatre. Coming home from Toronto are Halifax actors Kate Lavender and Matthew Thomas Walker.
The three started DMV Theatre Collective in 2007 to produce the play How I Learned To Drive.
DMV playfully stands for Department of Motor Vehicles.
"A woman in Calgary wondered if it meant daring," says Halstead.
That would fit since DMV exists to produce provocative, contemporary theatre.
However, the name’s true meaning fits this play because it includes an expert at customizing cars.
Set in the East Kootenay Mountains of British Columbia, Pageant follows Trudy (Lavender), the local pageant queen, and her aspirations for the coveted Miss Canada crown. Her quest takes a dark turn when she is lured to the neighbouring town by a shady plastic surgeon (Marty Burt).
Trudy has an estranged relationship with her father Bud (Brian Heighton), who is "an incredible automobile customizer," says Halstead. She also has an ongoing relationship with her boyfriend Fenster (Matthew Thomas Walker).
Pageant, like The Ugly One, DMV’s hit production last year, deals with plastic surgery and is about society’s obsession with beauty.
"In this day and age you can’t escape your image," says Halstead. "You’re being recorded in convenience stores and on cellphones. More than ever, we are confronted by our own image all the time and I’m not sure it’s a positive thing.
"Trudy is beautiful and has won every pageant up to Miss Western Canada but this fear you’re not quite perfect or good enough takes hold. The actress I think of is Jennifer Grey who was in Dirty Dancing and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and somebody convinced her she should change her nose. She’s never really worked since."
At the heart of Pageant, though, is a "love story" between Trudy and her estranged father.
"It’s absolutely a story of redemption," says Halstead.
DMV took The Ugly One by German writer Marius von Mayenburg to Calgary for the One Yellow Rabbit High Performance Rodeo Festival in January.
"It went great and we had great reviews and houses," says Halstead. "The Ugly One was very slick and absurdist whereas this one is absurd as well as dark but there is more heightened realism. There are extraordinary circumstances but it’s very much rooted in small town personalities and politics."
This is DMV’s fifth production and the company’s co-founders are dedicated to producing a play every year in Halifax even though they don’t live here.
"For me Halifax is my home theatre community and I want to continue to be a part of that and give something back to that," she says.
Halstead is in the midst of "transitioning out of" Lunchbox Theatre, now the longest running lunch-time theatre in the world and a hotbed for new play development.
The former artistic director of Ship’s Company Theatre has bought a place in East Pennant.
"My ties here are really strong. I love the Calgary community and I’ve been proud of the work but my heart is by the ocean," Halstead says.
She will be back in Nova Scotia in May with a tour of The Whimsy State or the Principality of Outer Baldonia, by Calgary playwright A.J. Demers. It is based on the true story of a man who bought an island off the coast of Yarmouth and declared it a sovereign nation. The play runs at Lunchbox Theatre in April with Graham Percy, David LeReaney, Sheldon Davis and Karen Johnson Diamond.
She is also back in Wolfville in July to direct during the fourth season of Bruce Klinger’s Valley Summer Theatre.
Good cast, plenty of laughs, but the script needs some polishing
By ANDREA NEMETZ Entertainment Reporter | Theatre ReviewBeauty is in the
eye of the beholder in DMV Theatre Collective’s Pageant.
The play, directed by DMV co-artistic director Pamela Halstead, is a dark look at beauty contests, relationships and small town life. It’s onstage at the North Street Church in Halifax till March 4.
Trudy is the prettiest girl in the small western town of Deer Ridge. She has won every pageant she’s ever entered and has her sights set on the Miss Canada crown. As played with winning sass by Kate Lavender, it’s not hard to see why.
Trudy’s the darling of Deer Ridge and regarded as its daughter. The town raised her after her mother was killed in a drunk driving accident with her father Bud at the wheel.
Bud, brought skilfully to life by Brian Heighton, still likes a nip from his ever-present flask. A gifted car customizer, he isn’t allowed a relationship with his daughter, but after every pageant he gets to sit behind the wheel of one of his automotive gems and play chauffeur in the celebratory parade, a fact he proudly recounts with a smile almost reaching his perpetually sad eyes.
Trudy’s boyfriend Fenster, played with manic intensity by Matthew Thomas Walker, embodies every redneck stereotype that ever existed. He’s a not-too-bright schemer with his eyes on Bud’s shop and though he works for Bud, he patronizingly orders him around. Bud just takes it.
The play opens with Bud and Fenster standing in the woods debating, at length, whether green is an appropriate colour for a Camaro, seemingly heedless of the lifeless body between them.
Eventually Fenster orders Bud to put the body in a hockey bag and dig a hole in some nearby woods. Then he says he will take Bud’s car, leaving him stranded with the body. After some mild protestations, Bud agrees to do as he’s told.
But he’s shocked when he returns with his shovel to find the victim alive, out of the bag and hopping around in his briefs — after all the man has a hole in his head courtesy of Fenster.
The emergence of plastic surgeon Randy is one of many inspired physical comedy performances in the two-hour play. As Randy, Marty Burt in his DMV debut, has less to do than the other actors — he spends much of the show unconscious — but he makes the most of every moment onstage.
He tries to convince Bud to spare him by showing him the book he’s written about his patients, including Trudy. When Bud comments on the fact there’s only before and during pictures of Trudy, no after shots, some key plot points begin to emerge. Randy made a mess of Trudy’s face and Fenster has exacted his revenge by shooting him.
The script by Daniel MacDonald feels as if it’s a work in progress. Much like plastic surgery patients or classic cars, recurring themes through the play, it seems like it needs something added, taken away or changed in shape.
There are interesting ideas on what constitutes beauty. Trudy announces she never believed she was beautiful until the town insisted she was and she started winning pageants — believing what others thought made it true.
Fenster spent two years customizing a maroon Malibu —his pride and joy — that Trudy thinks is the ugliest car she’s ever seen, emphasizing beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
MacDonald tries, and almost succeeds, in drawing comparisons between plastic surgery and customizing cars, but the parallels are not quite there. Bud — the only character not horrifyingly self-obsessed — is the only multi-dimensional character in the play and thus the only sympathetic one. Perhaps it’s his guilt over his wife’s death and lack of relationship with his daughter, but it’s only hinted at, not fleshed out.
Last year, DMV staged The Ugly One, which brilliantly dealt with society’s obsession with beauty. Its humour was darker and more cutting and the questions it posed more unsettling, its message more lingering.
There are some great lines, plenty of laughs and excellent performances in Pageant, but perhaps it needs to return to the script doctor for some finessing, to turn a contender with promise into a winner.