REVIEW: Murderous Musical Delights

Posted by Wayves volunteer 22/02/2014

By Drama Queen

Mimi (Kirsten Howell) her lover St. Croix (Zach Faye), her husband (Kyle Gillis) and their maid (Karen Myatt) Open the show in polyamourous bliss.

Mimi, or A Poisoner’s Comedy, TheatreSpeaks’ new production (previewed in Wayves here), is now playing at Neptune’s Studio Theatre in Halifax. This dark comedy proved to be a surprisingly fun antidote to February’s foul weather.

A more than able cast, performing under the unobtrusively crisp direction of Mary Lou Martin, handled Allen Cole’s  jewel-box  of a musical with aplomb. The voices were lovely, and the actors delivered the crisp and witty text (book and lyrics by Melody Johnson and Rick Roberts) and slightly Sondeim-esque songs well. While the musical direction felt at times a bit rigid to our ears, the accompanying score was well played by Andrea Dickinson.

The Marquise Marie-Madeleine-Marguerite (Mimi) d’ Aubray (Kirsten Howell) is a vivacious and willful aristocrat married to the equally frisky (but poor) Marquis de Brinvillers (Kyle Gillis). She has a lover, a country boy named Godin de Ste. Croix (Zach Faye), and together with her obliging maid, Françoise (Karen Myatt), they form an extravagant ménage à quatres.

Mimi’s wealthy father, however, played with puritanical zeal by Marty Burt, objects to his daughter’s licentious conduct. Refusing to bankroll her lusty lifestyle any longer, he forces her into repentance, setting off a chain of events, unfortunate for all concerned (including a number of unsuspecting Parisians) and worrying Louis XIV himself, as Mimi sublimates her sex drive by going on a killing spree.

On stage nearly the entire time, Mimi is performed with gusto and a sure comedic touch by Kirsten Howell, ably supported by Zach Faye as her lover. Both are strong and gifted performers with fine voices. Ms. Howell impressively manages her demanding role with apparent ease. 

The remaining four actors undertake numerous parts. Particularly delightful were Karen Myatt’s maid and Garry Williams as an imprisoned Italian poisoner. It is he who gleefully, patriotically, and musically plants the murderous seed in the mind of Mimi’s lover, who shares his cell.  Kyle Gillis has a wonderful number (one of the more interesting songs, perhaps at the core of the creators’ theme, —if there is one) protesting that he's nothing as a person without the flash presentation that money can buy. Mr. Burt displays his customary skill as an existential Parisien police detective (more Maigret than Closeau) and has a delicious turn as a hunchback guard in the Bastille.

Given the challenge, post-Sweeney Todd, of writing a musical featuring poisoned pies,  Allen Cole’s score is intriguing. Indeed, we  wondered if perhaps our untrained ears detected the occasional whisper of a musical nod to Maestro Sondheim. Melody Johnson and Rick Roberts provide crackling lyrics that are appropriately dark without ever being dismal; words and music never lose their sense of fun.

Both plot and characters are drawn from history. The real Madame de Birinvillers was tortured and beheaded in 1670 for her crimes. Her trial led to what became known as the Affair of the Poisons which touched even the court at Versailles when Louis’s Maîtrsse en titre (official mistress, —ah, the French!), Mme de Montespan was suspected.

But all of this, while interesting, is really beside the point; one needs no advanced degree to enjoy this “Poisoner’s Comedy.” The play makes no pretensions to be about history. Theclever script is so liberally spiced with anachronisms they are surely deliberate. If anything, the period setting serves to provide a mask through which to make some cynical observations on our own times, skewering our compulsive consumerism and hypocritical attitudes towards poverty and morality.

Garret Barker's lighting design is moodily suggestive. Costumes and wigs, roughly equivalent to the period, have been ably assembled by Denise Barrett and Laura Lee Osborne (no easy task on an independent theatre's budget). However, here we have a quibble with Ms. Martin's direction, we can’t help but feel that a more expressionistic handling of set and costumesmight have served this very modern play a little better.

But truly, laying all quibbles aside: an intriguing story is well told; good actors are playing interesting characters; a smart script and bright songs make us both think and laugh, and we get to see an original work by a brilliant Canadian team of composer and writers. And it was fun! Well done, TheatreSpeak.

Editor's Note: Mimi. or a Poisoner's Comedy runs at the Neptune Theatre's Studio, 1593 Argyle Street in Halifax. Seating is by General Admission. Tickets are: $25 Adults | $20 Seniors, Arts Workers | $15 Students. You can purchase tickets by contacting the Neptune Box Office directly, or online hereThere are three performances left, Tonight, Saturday, Feb. 22: 8:00pm; Sunday, Feb. 23: 2:00pm & 8:00pm.

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