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01.30.08

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Slings & Arrows

Acorn Media

By Michael S. Gant


The Canadian TV comedy Slings & Arrows ran for three seasons (2003–2006) and just 18 45-minute episodes. The box set (with an extra disc of interviews) will leave you wanting more but admiring creators Mark McKinney, Susan Coyne and Bob Martin for knowing how to bow out on top. Combining The Office and Waiting for Guffman, the show follows the fortunes, egos and libidos of the New Burbage Festival of Shakespearean Theatre. Kid in the Hall McKinney plays the bumbling executive director with the ultimate nondescript name, Richard Smith-Jones. His administrative assistant, Anna (Coyne), is an overstressed but chipper office enabler who fixes the copy machine, rides herd on the interns and serves (begrudgingly) coffee. Artistic director Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross) suffered a breakdown during a performance of Hamlet seven years before and now lives in the theater's storeroom ("How's that going?" "It's an easy commute," he quips). His one-time lover, Ellen Fanshaw (Martha Burns), is a neurotic diva. The festival's emeritus director, Oliver Welles (Stephen Ouimette), is run over by a ham-delivery truck early on but returns as a ghost giving Geoffrey staging advice. Visiting director Darren Nichols (Don McKellar of Twitch City) hates theater and favors Roland Barthes–style deconstructions, including a Romeo and Juliet in which the leads never look at each other. Each season follows a single main play—Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear—with the offstage antics mirroring the onstage text. In my favorite subplot, Richard, worried that the festival's aging subscribers are literally dying in their seats, hires a New Age ad agency headed by a Nixon-quoting visionary named Sanjay (Colm Feore), who embarks on an ad campaign featuring billboard come-ons like "Bite Me" and "Piss Off": "You know who thought this up? An idea-blast team composed of a puppeteer, a professional figure skater and a 9-year-old child!" he explains to an apoplectic Richard. The show manages to be raucous, profane, witty and, best of all, really in love with the agony and ecstasy of putting on a play. (Michael S. Gant)


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