On Thursday, April 11th, director Ryan Kerr presents Leah Cherniak, Robert Morgan and Martha Ross’ dark comedy The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine at The Theatre on King (TTOK) in downtown Peterborough.
Featuring Robyn Smith and Chris Jardin, the play take a comedic look at love and anger — and the old idea that you don’t truly know someone until you live with them.
The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine was written more than 30 years ago by Leah Cherniak, Martha Ross, and Robert Morgan. After training with French physical theatre master and clown Jacques Lecoq, Leah and Martha returned to Canada where they formed Theatre Columbus and developed the play through a process of improvisation. They debuted the play at the former Poor Alex Theatre in Toronto in 1987 and subseqeuently remounted it several times.
This show is distinctly different from the type of plays Ryan usually directs, and as a result is potentially accessible to a wider audience. The play is highly relatable to anyone who has ever lived with another person, be it a friend, a relation, a lover, or a spouse.
It’s a show about how opposing lifestyles can cause cracks in a foundation created by mutual love, as well as the dangers of unhealthy communication. But most of all, we recognize our own foibles through the characters of Ernest and Ernestine, allowing us to laugh in spite of ourselves.
The Anger is Ernest and Ernestine takes a look at the lives of well-dressed quirky young couple Ernest (Chris Jarden) and Ernestine (Robyn Smith). Recently married, the couple rents a basement apartment with a small kitchenette and a fussy water heater. As they are unpacking their possessions, Ernestine points out that while all their individual possessions can fit on a shelf, not all of their possessions fit on the shelves together.
Very soon it becomes obvious that it’s not only the possessions that don’t fit together, but it may also be their lifestyles. The next morning, as the couple eats breakfast, it becomes painfully obvious that Ernest and Ernestine have very different ways of living.
The two become more and more aggravated with one another but, in order to keep the illusion of their “perfect love”, each contains their own inner rage until it comes bursting through like an explosive gas fire. Can love be saved, or is it curtains for Ernest and Ernestine?
The narrative of The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine is an interesting one. Not only do the early scenes set the audience against the characters, but they also have potential to set audience members against each other as well.
In the beginning of the play, there is a certain cute obnoxiousness to the couple. They embody a beautiful hipster couple whose lives seem so perfect that it’s almost nauseating. The audience can’t help but delight at the cracks in their relationship the moment they start to appear. But as their love turns to anger, the show takes a darker turn and suddenly the loss of love seems more tragic.
Audience members may also find themselves siding with one of the two characters during the drama. It’s not that one is right or wrong but, depending on which of the two characters you relate to, you may find yourself vilifying the other. Personally, I found myself being an Ernestine type of person, although I know Ernest-type people. It really is a ingenious way of presenting two different character types whose strange habits agitate the other.
The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine not only rely on its clever script, funny monologues, and eccentric characterization, but also on physical humour and the actors’ ability to relay emotion. Both Robyn and Chris do this very well.
Chris is not only a great emotional actor, but he’s also excellent at physical comedy. At the beginning of the play, he brings a kooky Ned Flanders quality to Ernest, along with a funny little laugh and a huge smile. A perfectionist with keen observations and a place for everything, Ernest is the first of the couple to crack and, just as Chris is able to create the quirkiness in his character, he can also generate primal rage.
Robyn’s character seems a bit more human, but her own eccentricities take her character way over the top. Emotional where Ernest is vacant and removed, Ernestine’s need for attention is often not recognized by her spouse, which feeds into her own rage. In Ernestine, Robyn creates a perfect foil for Chris’s character
Their on-stage chemistry make Chris and Robyn so entertaining to watch as Ernest and Ernestine. These two characters with extreme issues and no anger management skills are adorable yet annoying, vicious yet lovable, and terrifying yet relatable. In other words, they are a lot like all of us and the people we know, and our ability to recognize that is what makes Ernest and Ernestine so awful yet so endearing.
A special shout out to Kate Story for assembling Ernest and Ernestine’s outfits for this show. Beautifully dressed, they have a sort of space-aged retro look as if they walked off of a White Stripes album cover. And for Bruce Springsteen fans, be prepared to enjoy a midshow performance featuring the music of The Boss that becomes one of the true highlights of the show.
If you’ve never been to a TTOK show, The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine is a great one to see. More contemporary and less avant-garde than many of the plays at TTOK, this one will appeal to a wider audience but still packs the power and punch of the shows that have given TTOK its reputation.
The show is very funny and well acted, but contains extreme emotion and a dark hint of tragedy. I loved The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine and have added it to my list of all-time favourite TTOK productions.
The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine runs from Thursday, April 11th to Saturday, April 13th at The Theatre on King (171 King St., Peterborough). All performances begin at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 or pay what you can and are available at the door.