Review: The Anger In Ernest and Ernestine (Pivotal(arts) Theatre Company)

The Anger In Ernest and Ernestine playing in Toronto’s Unit 102 Theatre is a howlingly funny show with a script that has withstood the test of twenty-five years.

The Anger In Ernest and Ernestine, currently staged by Pivotal(arts) is the study of the dissolution of a relationship, from the blush of new love to violence, death threats and hate. It is informed by clown tradition and effectively uses the incredibly intimate Unit 102 space by interacting with their Stage Manager, acknowledging the audience and making many references to their “theatre home.”

The things that drive them apart are mundane and that’s key to the charm of the piece: who in the audience hasn’t had a failed relationship with a live-in lover? Most people can identify with the accumulation of tiny differences that turns affection into frustration.

The danger is that such a portrayal could be so familiar as to be cliché. In terms of narrative, there was definitely nothing I haven’t seen before in the wide range of couple-studies out there, from Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, to Nightwood’s Theatre’s recent Stockholm. Stockholm made the material fresh with innovative dance, and similarly, The Anger In Ernest and Ernestine maximizes the humour and pathos of clown.

This is a twenty-fifth anniversary production of a play that can be considered a modern Canadian classic. It was originally created by Leah Cherniak, Martha Ross and Robert Morgan and was revived for 2012 by the actors, Jennifer De Lucia and Daniel Stolfi, a real-life couple whose dynamic onstage is so full of sincere emotion that it’s impossible not to get caught up in their downward spiral.

This is particularly apparent during a very steamy sex scene that erupts from an argument, and complicates a relationship that had previously been cartoonishly chaste. Ernest and Ernestine had celebrated their first apartment together by rubbing noses, adorable but virginal. As time passes they find that their morning routines are incompatible and their tastes in household decoration are dissimilar. It is when Ernest is stubbornly refusing to let Ernestine assist in fixing the furnace when lust suddenly takes over. It’s an important moment because it shows the intense connection between them, but also gives rise to what I see as the most destructive aspect of their relationship, and an issue far too common in the world at large, where straight men are frightened by strong female sexuality and respond to it by shaming and guilting.

I have one tiny quibble with the script, which is that Ernest is given the spectre of past abuse, possibly the cause of his dysfunction, while Ernestine has no such backstory. I did really enjoy how equally at fault each is; it can be difficult to tell such a story without one or the other becoming more to blame, a poor man burdened with a nagging harridan or a poor woman at the hands of an abuser. The Anger In Ernest and Ernestine approach this head –on, not avoiding the issue but rather making each of them equally nagging, equally violent, in their own character-driven way.

It’s a howlingly funny show, very physical and, other than wondering where the cell phones were during the scene where Ernest is six hours late to meet Ernestine, it has withstood the test of twenty-five years.

 Details

The Anger In Ernest and Ernestine is playing at Unit 102 Theatre376 Dufferin St until November 24th
-Shows are Monday to Saturday at 8 pm with Saturday 2 pm matinee
– Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door with half price $10 Mondays
-Tickets are available online

Photo of Jennifer De Lucia & Daniel Stolfi by Deanna L Palazzo