On its website, Bygone Theatre says its mandate is to “produce theatre written or set in the early 20th century, focusing on historical aspects in design and incorporating a classic cinema aesthetic.” His Girl Friday definitely fits this mandate. It’s a trip back in time, and had some moments that were surprisingly resonant today.
This play is based on a 1940 movie of the same name starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. It tells the story of Walter Burns, a newspaper editor, who learns that his ex-wife and star reporter, Hildy Johnson, is planning to leave the world of newspapers to marry a mild-mannered insurance salesman. He sets out to win her back by enticing her to cover one last story: The execution of a convicted murder.
The play features many tropes of early 20th century film and comedy. It has rapid-fire dialogue, madcap staging, and a lot of snarky banter. There are well-known character types – the corrupt politician, the gangster and his moll, and the hard-boiled journalist.
At points, some of the cast had a hard time keeping up with the pacing and the physical comedy. But for the most part, I thought the actors did a good job with these conventions. Cass Van Wyck was excellent as Hildy, tough and determined not to let Walter outwit her. She clearly is smarter than all the men in the room, and she clearly knows it. Sean Jacklin’s Walter was manipulative and smarmy, but his affection for Hildy came through. He knows she would never be happy as a suburban housewife and really does believe she’s the best reporter out there.
Two of my favourite performances were in minor roles. Chad Allen was sweet and bumbling as Joe Pettibone. And Ashlie White was terrific as Mollie Malloy. I felt like she was channeling a much younger and more stylish Edith Bunker. She had the New York accent down cold.
The set and costumes effectively established the 1930’s vibe. Most of the action takes place in the press room at the county courthouse, and the heavy wooden desks and swivel chairs put me right there. The men were in shirtsleeves, short ties, and fedoras. The women had tight-fitted wool suits, finger-waved hair, and fabulous hats. A soundtrack of big band and jazz classics complemented the mood.
Though it probably wasn’t intentional, the tale of corrupt politicians and role of the press seemed particularly relevant given current events in the United States. At one point, a reporter even asks the mayor, “Is it true that you’re on Stalin’s payroll?”
My one real complaint is that at some points His Girl Friday felt dated to me. Maybe because it stuck so closely to the stock characters and interpretations, I was never really surprised. It felt too familiar, and I could tell what was going to happen.
Even so, it was a fun evening. I laughed at the jokes even though I could see them coming. I rooted for Hildy to get her story and her man. Now I want to go buy one of those hats!
- His Girl Friday runs from March 2- 5, 2017 at the Aki Studio, Daniels Spectrum (585 Dundas Street East, Toronto)
- Performances are at 8pm Thursday – Saturday. 2pm on Saturday and Sunday.
- Tickets are $20-$25 and are available online or by calling 416-531-1402
Image provided by the company