Lips Together Teeth Apart loaded with multi-layered characters 

By Shelley Arnusch & Dana Michell

What: Lips Together Teeth Apart

Where: MY Place

When: Aug. 30-31 & Sept. 3-7

Tickets: $17-$22, doors at 8 p.m.

Two couples are spending a Fourth of July weekend lounging on the deck of a newly inherited beach house on New York’s Fire Island, painting, sipping drinks, lounging by the pool. It’s a scene of cliché holiday leisure with wisecracking characters and the easy comedy of various odd couplings. At first glance it seemed like the good folks at Quantum Theatre chose an extended sitcom for their company’s debut performance currently running in the comfortable upstairs theatre at MY Place.

But it doesn’t take long to see that Lips Together Teeth Apart is far from fluffy laugh-tracked fare. Terrence McNally’s characters are as multi-layered as jumbo onions, spelling out their private torment all the while trying to cover their pain with upper-middle class happy faces. It makes for an emotional roller coaster. They’re up; they’re down. They’re bringing each other down, kicking each other when they’re down, then helping each other get back up again, breaking the cycle every so often with bursts of genuine rage or genuine affection.

And the audience can’t help but come along for the ride. Each line of Lips Together is a dare not to see yourself or someone you know – a tribute to the talent of the cast. McNally’s characters could easily have slipped into the cartoon-like overkill zone familiar to ensemble television programs such as Will & Grace in the hands of a less insightful group.

A particular standout is Diana Pavlovska as country-club housewife Chloe Haddock – an over-the-top, people pleasing chatterbox who greets every inappropriate moment with a sing-songy "yoo-hoo." McNally has given Chloe all the best lines (her speech is garnished hilariously with americanized French phrases) and Pavlovska turns the amps to 11 to bring her to life. A gifted physical comedienne, Pavlovska is equal parts fretting hen and Broadway baby, and the fact that she is able to get a theatre-full of people to like and root for an obsessive-compulsive character whose husband is constantly fantasizing about shutting up is a testament to her performance. If you’re going to take Chloe, take her all the way. Pavlovska doesn’t shy away from the task, and you’ll love her for it.

In a more thankless role is Samantha Sewell as Sally Truman, a reserved, contemplative woman struggling with a string of failed pregnancies and the recent loss of her brother to AIDS, her depression enhanced by his lingering presence in the Fire Island beach house she received in his will. Sewell is forced to play the brooding yin to Pavlovska’s gangbusters yang, and is often the character that ruins everyone’s good mood. But while her character Sally exists in Chloe’s shadow, Sewell holds her own.

Rounding out the cast are John Haddock as stuffy, upper-class John Haddock, and Benson Simmonds as average-joe Sam Truman, Chloe’s brother and Sally’s husband. Their performances are particularly effective in relation to each other as they struggle, sometimes unsuccessfully, to keep their mutual dislike from spiralling into alpha-male aggression. Many of their interactions are loaded with a tension theatregoers can’t help but feel weighing down on their heads.

A dramatic-comedy in the true sense, the audience is mercifully allowed to laugh even as the characters cry, hurt, fight and puzzle over life, love, death, guilt, sexuality and self worth. There’s a lot these four have to hash out in just two acts, but a perfect cast means the audience can leave the theatre exhilarated instead of exhausted.

Tickets for Lips Together Teeth Apart are $22 for adults, $17 for students and seniors. In conjunction with Casa Tapas and Wine Bar, a special package including two tickets to the play, two glasses of wine and three tapas is available for $70. Tickets can be reserved through the MY Place box office. Call 604-935-8418 for more information.

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