REVIEW: Theatre Orangeville’s Off the Grid compelling and laugh-out-loud funny

by Chris Daponte

Neighbourly advice? – Robin Schisler, Stephen Sparks and Jeffrey Wetsch star in Off the Grid at Theatre Orangeville until April 14, 2019. Submitted photo

ORANGEVILLE – The inability to open up, career challenges/changes and starting a family are issues that will generally crop up in all serious relationships.

It is, therefore “apropos” that all those challenges are addressed head-on in Off the Grid by playwright John Spurway.

The comedy, now enjoying its world premiere at Theatre Orangeville, opens with Martha (played by Robin Schisler) and Len (Jeffrey Wetsch) hoping to kill two birds with one stone by living “off the grid” for a week in a remote rental home.

Martha, an architect tasked with writing an article on self-sufficient homes, also hopes the isolated location will provide some romance on the couple’s sixth wedding anniversary.

Len, of course, comes along, but the loans officer is reluctant from the outset, instead preferring creature comforts like TV and the internet.

Not long after arriving, the couple is surprised to learn the seemingly secluded house, which may or may not have “running” water, comes complete with one very nosey neighbour.

Lowell (Stephen Sparks), a 67-year-old retiree with an affinity for making jam and a disdain for “bankers,” immediately interjects himself in Martha and Len’s lives.

With no regard for boundaries or privacy and an apparent inability to read social cues, Lowell can be overbearing, particularly for Len, yet he also can provide some sage relationship advice.

There may be something Lowell’s not telling the couple, however – and perhaps he’s not the only one keeping secrets.

Schisler and Wetsch are remarkable in their respective roles, equally impressive during their characters’ heartfelt conversations (about trust and family) and their comedic exchanges (such as commentary on the short attention spans of men versus excessive verbiage employed by women).

Sparks is up to his usual scene-stealing ways as Lowell, hilariously annoying Martha and Len one minute, and counseling them the next.

The actors have great chemistry and seem to have received strong direction from David Nairn, who is celebrating 25 years as Theatre Orangeville’s artistic director.

Playwright John Spurway offers a compelling and heartfelt tale with the perfect mix of earnestness and humour. A couple of the production’s early jokes fall flat, but more often than not, it’s laugh-out-loud funny.

There’s something for everyone here and audiences will surely relate to one or more of the characters.

 

April 5, 2019