Redheaded Stepchild: comedy with a squishy organ

Johnnie Walker is redheaded and he wants you to know about it

Oldies play. Onstage is a plywood Toxbox which seems to have grown a skullet of red yarn. Following one of these threads onstage is redheaded sixth-grader Nicholas. Redheaded Stepchild begins (as part of this year's Uno Fest).

Things progress slowly but deliberately from here. Nicholas and the class bully have an ambiguously gay moment alone in the locker room (pube color is inquired about) and nobody is available to help the spazzy Nicholas when his nemeses announce and coordinate an attack with Facebook. Nicholas’ sniggering stepmother Maryanne sends him off to school anyway with a reminder that skipping would mean skipping auditions for the class play – directed by Nicholas’ favorite teacher and best friend in the world, who he has, like, a really deep understanding with. A dilemma! The script captures the complicated politics of pubescent life very well.

Nicholas occasionally robes himself as Rufus Vermillion, a suave alter-ego born from a mixture of Nicholas’ literary pretentions and Rita Hayworth’s performance in Gilda. Rufus introduces and narrates Nicholas’ story, and if you remember watching The Kids in the Hall, Rufus comports himself as a spitting ginger image of Scott Thomson’s Buddy Cole. While he’s a charm to watch, the place Rufus occupies in the story is a bit uncertain. He gets to relate the story of Nicholas’ beating, for example, but this felt too distant. Without him, the play would focus in on the relationship between Nicholas and Maryanne – a big difference, but probably an interesting one. If we need the third person to keep from getting overdramatic about the beating, Maryanne could do just as well.

Like just about every comedy, Redheaded Stepchild grows more and more serious in tone as the plot unfolds. Fortunately, this is a script which does so gradually, instead of suddenly justifying its humour in the last act. The script is really elegant in this regard. The cliché would be to say that it’s a comedy with a heart or a soul or a similarly squishy organ, but in this case it fits.Nicholas’ humour is not only entertaining but endearing: the character comes onstage trying to make you like him. He succeeds, and when the bruises come out we really do feel bad for the kid.

Redheaded Stepchild has a few hairs that need to be straightened out – costume changes stand out for taking too long and your fellow audience members blot out your view of action happening downstage – but as far as never-before-staged works go it certainly doesn’t fail to impress. The last two shows are Friday the 28th at 9pm and Saturday the 29th at 8pm, so don’t play hooky on this one!

Redheaded Stepchild is part of Victoria's Uno Fest. For more info on the show go ginger here.

By Chris Felling