Higher Window and The Marriage Proposal - a critic’s nightmare

Higher Window and Marriage Proposal, open window and a plank reviewer = bad combination

I’m at The Terraces Retirement Residence on 7th avenue, in a carpeted activity room, waiting for this double-bill by the On Cue Players to begin. I’m almost alone in the audience.

I think this might be an amateur production. I won’t be taking notes during the show. The pressure on me will be too intense. In fact this show is no longer about what is going to take place on stage. It’s about how I’m going to cope with the fact that I’m 33% of the audience. I’m going to become the judge of all the theatrical hopes and dreams of these actors. They will look to me for laughter, tears, or silent empathy. And they, in turn, will judge my performance as spectator. Really, I am the performer here and they are the audience. I hope I’m up to it.


The show started at 9:00 pm. It’s now 9:13 and I’m standing outside in a cold sweat. It really was an amateur production. So I don’t want to say too much about it. Except to note that I have totally failed in my role as spectator. I ran. The show began with a guy in a lab coat (a psychiatrist?) introducing us to an old lady who was about to revisit her romantic youth. When I rushed out, I saw him in the lobby reading a novel. What had transpired during the short 13 minutes I was in the theatre was the beginning of an adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Marriage Proposal. Except that instead of the usual male landowner trying to win the hand of the next-door neighbour’s daughter, the landowner was now a woman — so the adaptation had a lesbian twist. And why not, but the first meeting of these proto-dykes of early Russian naturalistic drama was marked by an endless string of double entendres about who’s ‘bush’ was planted in who’s ‘garden’— it was overwhelming. I noticed Jay Hamburger, of Theatre in the Raw fame, a few seats over offering up a very contrived guffaw now and again. It was the kind of gesture that would fool only a stand-up comedian with Alzheimer’s who hadn’t realized she’d failed to deliver the punch line of her last routine. Still, it was more than I could muster. Come to think of it, I now recall that Mr. Hamburger was chatting with cast members before the show. Did he have a hand in this?

Whatever. Standing outside, still shaking from the experience, I look down for the first time at the sandwich board. It says: “Rating: Mature content 14 years, queer, G-rated insults, arguing, lesbian embrace, risqué clothing.” If only I’d read this before the show. I would have seen the warning signs. No self-respecting lesbian professional theatre artist would warn the public about risqué clothing.

What have I done? I’ve failed in my role as spectator. Unable to appreciate the spirit behind this neophyte endeavour, I’ve offended the cast by walking out, I’ve… Wait a minute… Another glance at the sandwich board and the blurb from the second half of this double-header slaps me in the face: “Higher Window (Murder Mystery): How did Mr. Winthrop die? Was he murdered, if so, was it the transsexual secretary, the lesbian niece or the niece’s girlfriend?” What’s with all the lesbians on this bill? What I mean is, why here, at the common room of The Terraces Retirement Residence? Is this a retirement residence for lesbians? Or is this the future of theatre in Canada after the Harper cuts to arts funding? Gender renegades and liberal seniors, with no budget, furtively putting on revisionist adaptations of the classics in out-of-the-way retirement homes, and fucking with the heads of theatre critics like me. Jay Hamburger — are you and the On Cue Players fucking with my mind?

Higher Window is presented by the On Cue Players. It runs at The Terraces on 7th, Sep 4-14.

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By Alex Lazaridis Ferguson