Chocolate Moose Theatre Co. goes for the jugular with this comedy about a young, urban couple that moves into a basement apartment. Initially professing undying love with near-sickening coos of “sweetie,” things go wrong immediately. The furnace acts up and a frenzied attempt to fix it showcases that Ernest and Ernestine’s approaches to life are discordant. Over a series of vignettes, we see Ernest (Andrew Cameron) and Ernestine’s (Alina Gotcherian) apartment transform from a nest for love birds to a ring for a cock fight.
Law and the team do a fantastic job with this play. Though one could focus on the deeper meaning of relationships, gender-differences, or anger, Law is wise to focus on the comedy and characters. In doing so, scene after scene remains strong and the laughs never stop. Gotcherian flits around like a hummingbird, her eyebrows and hair a reflection of her shallow, erratic artistic passions. She picks herself up and remakes herself after every ruffle, smoothing her hair, dance-hopping her way around the room and winding Ernest up. Cameron is a shade of hipster with a hidden wild side that is masked by his Scout-taught love for rules and order. He holds it together until the dam bursts, crushing Ernestine every time.
Initially, it’s not clear what brings Ernest and Ernestine together. They aren’t quite “opposites attract” or “oil and water.” They seem to know so little about each other when they move in. Director Martin Law finds subtle ways to build their connection, whether it’s the speed with which Ernest races after Ernestine when she leaves following a fight, a glance exchanged, or even the fact both have overlapping quirks about placing objects. As we find out, of course, the two seem to get off on being angry (and making animal noises), but I attribute the illusion of their commonality primarily to the skill of the director and the cast.
There are so many great moments in this play, it’s hard to focus on a favorite. The scenes without words were poetry in motion, especially a sequence of three breakfasts in which Cameron transforms a cereal box into a fortress wall to protect himself from Gotcherian’s morning tornado. Another great scene has Cameron recount a big day at the fish store (a guppy gives birth) while Gotcherian melts down in her boredom and anxiety while she waits over six hours for him. Gotcherian kills it when she responds to a nasty greeting by slithering to Cameron in mock deference.
One last thing… I spent a good deal of this play wondering if I was seeing the proverbial Checkovian-gun (in this case, a hammer) that makes its appearance in the first scene. To find out, you’ll have to check out the Anger in Ernest and Ernestine for yourself.
The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine is at the Mainline Theatre (3997 St. Laurent) from January 22-25 at 8 p.m. $12/16.