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Before taking in Nan Loves Jerry there’d been cautioning as the first night was ‘just a preview’. Preview or not Sherry White and Sue Kent have put together a terrifically entertaining presentation. The show struck a delicate balance between tongue in cheek humour with moments that almost seemed raw and delicate.

Sue Kent as Jerry

Sue Kent as Jerry

Nan Loves Jerry is a one person show that’s both written and performed by Kent. The initial character, Jerry, is the one that anchors the show and is by far the more publicly recognizable of the two. In fact, there was no expectation to see anyone other then Jerry, though that was quickly dispelled when lights went up revealing a bed with none other then Nan herself in it. Although “Nan” was only physically present three times, her character is who ultimately lent weight to the plotline.

First introduction to Kent and Jerry was through a short video Kent had made with director Jordan Canning when the ideas for a full script were still nothing more then conceptual. The video was entertaining in its own right but seemed to lack the depth needed for a full show. A second presumption quickly destroyed as it was so easy to laugh and listen to Nan as if she was family. She brought up her own values in a tidy bundle, clearly important to her as they were listed a good three or four times when the moment invited her to do so, even with slightest opportunity. They showed a younger side, even in her aged wisdom. Kent delivered Nan’s values as though they were meant to be adhered to but also with the slightest uncertainty and variation each time so it was questionable as to whether she herself followed them.

It makes sense to look at Jerry and understand why he is the way that he is. Kent’s worked hard to show that people are products of their environments. But more touching is how she’s demonstrated that it’s possible to find emotional profundity within people typically dismissed casually by general society. Jerry is abrasive, rude, and vulgar in many ways at many times. But it seems Kent has written the show with ‘excess’ in mind, an accessory in her execution of comedy.

Even though Jerry is less then colloquial when speaking about women and hardly graceful about how he goes after ‘Brown Eyes’ (a young woman whom he tries to woo in his spare time away from Nan’s errands for bananas). A scene comes to mind with Jerry hovering over a series of five or so cordless phones in Nan’s bathroom, trying to rotate handsets to call her so as to seem a little less compulsive. Jerry’s actions aren’t always the best thought out plans but more precious were the seconds where his motivations for doing so shone through almost defensively.

Nan Loves Jerry was pensively creative and made full use of a completely stripped stage space. The legs and all curtains had been removed and the full black space was turned into an imaginative playground. Kent pulled on just enough to set a room’s tone and left creating the rest of the space up to the audience. The creation of the bathtub scene was brilliant, using the old cot style bed to double as the tub draped in white fabric with a portable very classic 360 degree chrome shower curtain stand. Kent then climbed on top of the bed and poked through the curtains as Nan.

While this was an invariably creative way to create the tub space, Kent then led into a conversation between Nan and Jerry. She stood on the bed to poke out over the top of the curtain, becoming Jerry in the shower. Understandably, the dialogue between the two moved too quickly for her to have gone from standing in the shower as Jerry to poking out through the curtains again as Nan. So the solution was to just look left for Nan speaking and right for Jerry. The profile approach did work very well, but it seemed like the setting should have changed to accommodate that part. This is probably a fair place to also admit that taking in Nan Loves Jerry was a first time experience at a one-person show; and there was an effort to keep reminded of that fact.

It would be unfair to not give a nod to the fantastic lighting design as well. It was nothing extraordinary, but again, creative approaches to making the space work and encouraging the audience to envisage their own familiar reality, or in a personal case, the various settings from the YouTube short as they seemed to fit easily enough. The lighting was framed to form boarders and blocks on the stage that created doors, which worked particularly well for the many times Jerry was buzzed in (often after 11pm much to Nan’s chagrin).

The highlight for many though was likely the first of three times Jerry picked up his bicycle with almost celebrity audience appeal. Before switching from Nan to Jerry, after trading in the bright pink fuzzy house coat for Jerry’s signature blue windbreaker suit, Kent unapologetically turned around to face the audience, sharply putting on a mascara moustache with two confidant strokes. It takes guts to bare all and perform personal work on stage and while Nan Loves Jerry may not be flawless, it was performed extremely well, showing Kent’s incredible diversity as an actor.

originally published May 2008

With more then a dozen of the arts scene’s finest fused together, hailing from a variety of disciplines, newfoundlandartistx (N.A.X.) created one of the most entertaining nights of original theatre to be experienced in St. John’s in a while. Part way through the show the realization came that it was already one of those memorable shows you feel you can relive in your head whenever you’d like. 5 Very Short New Plays in a Tub lived up to its name, both literal and critical. Lois Brown is the Artistic Director of N.A.X. and also one of the four writers that came together to make the production come to life.

Brown was joined by all-stars Robert Chafe, Mary Walsh, and Lynn Panting to ink the words for Sue Kent, Philip Winters, Dave Sullivan, Ruth Lawrence, Kira Sheppard, and Aiden Flynn (in order of appearance). As the name of the series suggests, every one of the five shorts took place in the bathroom, either immediately or eventually incorporating the luxurious spa tub full of water into the scene.

Gloria written by Chafe and directed by Brown featured a stunning performance by Kent who started the scene “a little over dressed for the tub” in an ardent red dress. Opposite her was Winters who shared a rather implied in-depth conversation to ensure Gloria was “ok,” leaving a guessing audience to try and sleuth out the situation. All the while, Winters’ character was left struggling with trying to deflect and lighten her mood with short comedic quips.

Because they couldn’t have bubbles in the tub for the opening number, the first of four somewhat lengthily scene changes started. Although the first was the longest, the crew executed a stellar distraction and got some willing audience members out of their seats and up to their elbows to shake up the suds.

5 Plays in a Tub

5 Plays in a Tub

Up next was Walsh’s contribution as directed by Amy House called Introducing Romanticism, which abrasively shattered the more somber tone of the prior scene. It featured a ‘present’ and ‘past’ setup with Lawrence in the tub recounting a confrontation. She had signature Walsh sarcasm in her lines which offered relief from the loud and drunken memory being played out behind her. Impressive was that with little eye contact Lawrence delivered lines in sync with her character’s younger-self portrayed by Sheppard.

The ‘very short’ short that probably had the most meat on its bones was Leona and Ruth written by Brown, directed by Roger Maunder. It told a story that left an audience wanting more. More back story and a deeper background of how Leona had come to share this conversation over, her caregiver, Ruth’s bath. It recalled childhood memories with Leona now telling stories to Ruth while parting the bubbles and dropping a homemade and quite symbolic raft made of popsicle sticks into the tub.

Both of the last two shorts could have served as the final piece in the line up. Whichever one was chosen, however, would drastically effect the audience’s final impressions. Two Witnesses which was written by Panting and directed by Nicole Rousseau featured a take on the apocalypse and opposing emotional approaches. Sullivan’s skittish character appeared with Lawrence’s more accepting and go-with-the-flow nature. She was prepared and ready for the end, in the tub (conceivably to stay warmer) with a party dress on and offered Sullivan his top hat with invitation to join her.

Death Would Be a Relief completed the evening and featured Flynn’s only appearance with Kent’s fourth for the night and Sullivan for his third. This, serving as the final piece, allowed the audience to leave with an amusing and charming scene that eventually went over the top. It worked though once the satiric observational comedy had enough time to compound upon itself.

It was an incredibly satisfying way to spend an evening with bite-sized pieces that were easy to digest and didn’t convolute themselves. It was easy to leave not only with a new play to revisit in my imagination but also plenty of great personal bath time memories revisited. The show made me realize how pensive and memorable that place can be. In fact I’d always said it was where I went to clear my head but perhaps all this time I’ve just been organizing it better and filling it up with more thoughts.

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makin’ sense of it all

keepin’ track of it all

August 2020
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