Saturday, February 9, 2008

A great vehicle for Michael Bullett

Strong acting, fun one-liners drive Norm Fosterís comedy, The Motor Trade

By Greg Burliuk
Whig-Standard Staff Writer

The self-proclaimed joke about Jerry Seinfeldís TV show was that it was the show about nothing. During the first 20 minutes of Norm Fosterís play The Motor Trade, one might be tempted to say the same thing about it. That might be fine for a half-hour TV show, but itís a little daunting when faced with the perspective of spending two hours watching actors fiddle away your time.

But thatís the beauty of The Motor Trade. Just when you get lulled into thinking nothing is happening, you get zapped with a big truth that makes you sit up and take notice. Once that happens a few times, it dawns you on that, yes, this is a comedy but it also has some meaty things to say about life.

To use food terms, you start out thinking youíre just going to get a light souffle but you end up getting meat and potatoes, too.

The setup is easy enough. Itís a wintry Saturday morning, which means business is slow at Doral Valley Motors. That leaves plenty of time for owners Phil Moss and Dan Torelli to shoot the breeze. Phil is the loud-mouthed one, the stereotypical car salesman with plenty of opinions and not a lot of class. Dan is quieter, but then, who wouldnít be when sharing the same airspace with Phil.

But after eulogizing (somewhat profanely) the dealer who gave them their start in the business, Phil casually lets it be known that his much younger wife Darlene has left him, for a Dodge dealer of all things. It turns out she has thing for car salesmen of all makes, something which Foster has fun with in recurring one-liners throughout the play. Dan, it turns out, is a widower, who lost his wife when a drunk driver smashed into her car. (After a while you realize that almost everything significant has something to do with a car.)

Darlene eventually appears on the scene, unrepentant but mostly as a vehicle to impart some damaging information about Phil to his partner. And then thereís Gail Pierce, whoís come to audit what Phil calls his creative tax returns. Far from being a cold-blooded bureaucrat, it turns out sheís going through a divorce, too, and isnít afraid to admit it hurts.

Most of the time, however, itís just the two men on stage almost unintentionally revealing themselves among the small talk. Unlike Gail, they donít like to reveal their pain, but itís there nonetheless, hidden among the small talk and, in the case of Phil, car-salesman bravado.

Although the two main characters are on stage the same amount of time, this is Philís show to win or lose. He is the flamboyant one and most of the plot is driven around him.

It takes a skilled actor to be both a blowhard and be sympathetic at the same time. When last seen on stage a few months ago, Michael Bullett was Charlie Brown, the hapless Peanuts kid and itís a sign of his versatility that heís equally convincing this time around as Phil. In the middle of all his crass behaviour and car salesman malarkey, Bullett allows us to see little glimpses of his characterís vulnerability, just enough to allow us to care about him.

As Dan, Eirik Rutherford has a much less flamboyant part. He doesnít move as easily or seems as comfortable as Bullett on stage but he brings a nice earnestness to the role. Plus he and Bullett work together well and are believable as two guys who have been friends and working comrades for 21 years.

Both Aerin Kemp as Gail and Amy Axford as Darlene have much smaller stage appearances especially Axford, who is only in one scene but I did enjoy Kemp as the revenuer who was both tough and vulnerable. I must admit Iím not a big Norm Foster fan but The Motor Trade is enjoyable, funny and touching all in one nice easy-to-deal-with package.


Mike Bullett and Eirik Rutherford star in The Motor Trade at the Wellington Street Theatre.

Phil Moss - Michael Bullett
Dan Torelli - Eirik Rutherford
Gail Pierce - Aerin Kemp
Darlene Moss - Amy Axford
Rating: 3.5 out of five stars

A play written by Norm Foster.
Director - Ian Malcolm
Stage Manager - Mark Gauthier
Lighting/Set Design - Kyle White
A Bottle Tree Productions production now playing at the Wellington Street Theatre, 126 Wellington St., until Feb. 16 with performances from Tuesday to Saturday at 8 p.m. plus matinees on Saturday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors and $15 for students. For tickets or more information, call the Grand Theatre box office, 613-530- 2050.