THEATRE REVIEW: Schippel, The Plumber
Schippel's pipe saves the day
By Jen Bechard
Schippel, The Plumber
Directed by: Allen MacInnis
Starring: Bruce Dow, Kent Staines, Damien Atkins, Patrick R. Brown, Jeffrey Wetsch
Adapted from Carl Sternheim's play Burger Schippel, C.P. Taylor's version is light-hearted and farcical. Set in pre-war Germany, this tale of a quartet of bourgeois singers, whose star tenor dies before they can once more claim the musical crown, is a charming lesson in the importance of judging a man by his character and not his occupation.
As the curtain opens, the audience is immediately introduced to Thekla, the "grieving" fiancée of the dead tenor. Thekla, played enthusiastically by Sarah Mennell, is far from upset that she will no longer have to marry a man whom she was completely repulsed by; instead, she is delighted with her newfound freedom, which allows her to pick up any guy who can give her the romp in the sack that she really desires.
As Thekla and Jenny (Patricia Hunter) perfectly cast as Thekla's sister-in-law exit, their brother Hicketier (Kent Staines) and his two equally snobby, if not somewhat more reasonable friends, Krey (Damien Atkins) and Wolke (Patrick R. Brown) enter. These three remaining members of the quartet rule the stage with the hilarity of a bourgeois Larry, Curly and Moe, perfectly complementing the playful tone Schippel is striving for.
After much discussion centered upon the quartet's superior societal position in relation to that of a plumber's, Schippel played by Bruce Dow is brought in for an audition. Schippel is the antithesis of everything Hicketier, Krey and Wolke represent, but has the voice they need to win the competition. Into this awkward situation arrives the Crown Prince of Germany (Jeffrey Wetsch), who is in love with Thekla, but is unable to marry her due to royal decree.
Wetsch's portrayal of the young prince is effective in that he comes across as sulky, immature and whiny, which is completely appropriate behaviour for his gender at his age. Unfortunately, his authority over Hicketier, Krey and Wolke is weakly exerted, making the role slightly unbelievable, considering the prince's elevated standing in imperial Germany.
In Schippel's fiery relationship with Hicketier, there exists an opportunity for Dow to really shine as the title character; however, it is Staines who ends up dazzling the audience, frequently overshadowing the lead actor.
While Dow has a fabulous voice, his portrayal of Schippel often comes across in the over-exuberant manner of a Chris Farley sketch. In his attempt at helping Hicketier keep his eyes on the goal of winning the crown, Atkins and Brown deliver performances worthy of leading roles, instead of the supporting ones they are placed in.
The play raises questions of the value of social order, and it is up to Schippel to prove that a man should not be judged by the occupation he holds or the parents he was born to. Unfortunately, the audience often ends up sympathizing with the pompous socialites, as Schippel's raucous behaviour verges on obnoxious.
Despite this setback, Schippel's happy-go-lucky charm creates a cheerful atmosphere and MacInnis's overall direction allows the audience to leave the theatre feeling content.
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