You’re served more than you expect when watching Counter Service.
The mise en abyme — a play within a play — at what could have been the performance’s conclusion was incredibly startling.
By the time of the applause, I found myself severely skeptical of my own interpretations.
When we think of a ‘play within a play,’ usually what comes to mind is a performance whereby actors act out a literal play within the performance; however, what I encountered was what seemed to be two, irreconcilable parts placed beside one another.
The first component of the Queen’s drama department’s production of Counter Service relies on typical compositional conventions.
The show’s opening — shady bars, bustling diners and swarms of overbearing neighbours decorated with French accents set the tone for what at first appeared to be somewhat in line with my expectations for the production.
Centred around an incredibly deluded young woman named Thérèse, played by Catherine Zulver, a stunning array of pain and discouragement are brought forth.
Flocks of judgmental neighbours perched all over the stage form a choir of condescendence, bearing down on the targeted Thérèse, a woman on the run from her debts and doubts.
Although I thought this factor of the play was rather overstated, as the performance continued, animosity and accusation began to manifest elsewhere.
Confident best friend, Pierrette, played by Miri Makin, would join in the cause to point out the play’s antagonist’s imperfections, from a place of concern and regret rather than contempt.
I was pleased to find myself immersed in an exchange that was by all means wonderful entertainment — sincere and emotional — but I wondered how much more could have been done to differentiate the characters from the typical.
This was only the beginning.
Before long, the plot would zero in, displaying an even more intense intimacy.
As terrible Thérèse stumbled home in drunken squalor, the stage was set for the show’s most prominent star.
In a moment, Thérèse, crippled in the realization of her delusion, and lay vulnerable as a fetus on the ground, comforted by her mother. Alyssa LeClair put in a jaw-dropping performance of a mother dealing with family issues and trying to hold it all together.
Such a tender moment was delectable to watch. But this was shortly disrupted by the most absurd of devices employed during the ending.
Before I knew it, I was bombarded with an array of social comments through song and dance — some that seemed to veer awkwardly away from the plays former direction. I certainly was not expecting to be told about the inequity of low corporate taxation for example; I certainly got more than an order of fries watching Counter Service.
Counter Service runs from Nov. 10 to 14 and 14 to 17 in the Rotunda Theatre in Theological Hall.
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