(From right) Self-help coaches Cindy and Hal Savage, played by Jennifer Ottenbreit and Wes Lazaroff, dispose of a problem with help from their agent Ruby, played by Sheila Fremont-Male, in the Nanaimo Theatre Group production of Self Help by Norm Foster.

Nanaimo Theatre Group will start its season by staging a farce

Self Help follows married second-rate actors who become famous self-help coaches

The Nanaimo Theatre Group’s first play of the new year is Self Help, a 2004 farce by prolific Canadian playwright Norm Foster.

The play follows Hal and Cindy Savage, a married couple of “second-rate actors … acting in third-rate theatres,” in the words of director Sheila Coultish, who through a series of events become rich and famous self-help gurus before their lives dissolve into farce.

“I’ve done a variety of things from musicals, pantomimes to straight plays and I’ve done comedy but I’ve never actually tackled a farce, which is a bit different because a comedy usually has a credible storyline,” Coultish said.

Coultish was moved to advocate for Self Help’s inclusion in the NTG 2018-19 season after watching a performance at the Mainstage Festival in Vernon last summer. She said liked the premise and the way the story unfolded and from Feb. 20 to March 9 she’s bringing it to Bailey Studio.

She said one challenge in directing a farce is managing pace.

“It has to go fairly quickly and there’s a fine line between moving the action along but also being sure that the audience doesn’t miss any of the storyline information,” she said.

Another newcomer to farce is Sheila Fremont-Male, who play’s the Savages’ agent, Ruby. She’s used to playing “heavier, grittier, darker” roles and said that being in a farce is “just plain fun.”

“What better way to handle wintertime than just be in a play where everybody’s laughing and clapping and having a great time and just wants it to keep going forever?” she said.

Fremont-Male said while the two main characters drive the story, she describes Ruby as one of the kooky, peripheral characters who have the most fun.

However, she conceded that she had had some difficulty suspending her disbelief at some of the plot’s sillier moments.

“It’s hard in a way for me because I keep going, ‘No, that couldn’t happen,’ and, ‘Of course they could see that person hiding behind the couch,’ and, Why wouldn’t they just look in there?’” Frement-Male said. “That’s the biggest difficulty for me is getting over the [fact] it’s a farce and it’s not supposed to be realistic. We’re not supposed to question these things, it’s not that genre. It’s totally escapism, you just check your logic at the door when you take your seat and just enjoy the show.”

Wes Lazaroff plays Hal Savage. He’s more familiar with farces, noting that his first play with the NTG 27 years ago was a farce. He said the cast usually ends up enjoying the show almost as much as the audience. Like Fremont-Male, he said farces make for good escapism.

“People just get to laugh at the problems that other people are having in front of them on stage and hopefully just disappear into that and enjoy themselves for a couple hours,” Lazaroff said. “And hopefully at this show, the ending, maybe they walk away wondering exactly what happens next to Hal and Cindy.”

WHAT’S ON … Nanaimo Theatre Group presents Self Help at Bailey Studio from Feb. 20 to 23, 27, March 2 and 6 to 9 at 8 p.m. Feb. 24 and March 3 at 2 p.m. All tickets $20, available at 250-758-7224 or online.


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