The Tea About Ernest and Ernestine
From the moment I walked in the room, my heart started doing little flips. Everything is pink. Pink chairs, pink table, pink carpet, pink coat rack, the list goes on.
Within the walls of Theological Hall’s Room 106, Queens Theatre Troupe (QTT) has set the stage for their second-ever production: The Anger in Ernest and Ernestine by Robert Morgan, Leah Cherniak, and Martha Ross, and directed by Victoria J Marmulak.
With my favourite colour on display, Set Designer Noah Solomon was only the first of the troupe to fix a cheeky grin across my face. In addition to all the pink, there’s a clear essence of nothing fancy. The audience has the choice of sitting on chairs or plopping down on cushions and crocheted blankets for a front row view. The flimsy backstage curtains open wide enough to see what lies behind them. The lighting operators (Myra Chin and any available crew member) are visible to the audience, each sitting in a corner of the room, and the lights look oddly similar to overhead projectors. The coziness and view of the behind the scenes and technical elements piqued my interest. It’s unusual to forgo the classic theatrical structure of the production team being out-of-view but I quite liked this. The informal feel creates a relaxed atmosphere and I immediately felt like everyone, including the cast and crew, were more at ease. And more at ease = better chance of fun (at least for me).
The play centres around a couple, Ernest (Dani Braun) and Ernestine (Jaeli Schnoor), who are madly in love, marry fairly quickly, and then finally get to know each other. This is where their fights begin. It could be about breakfast, sweaters, tissues, hammers—whatever is in the room, they are able to fight about it. Ernest and Ernestine’s contrasting characters feed the fire in these heated situations (yes, there is a fight about heating). Paired with an already hilarious dialogue is physical comedy, mime, and audience interaction.
Braun and Schnoor maintain an enthralling dynamic in their constant ups and downs. Their intensities run—and sprint—at a matching pace despite their wildly different personas. Although each character is exceptionally odd, their habits are not shared. Ernest loves rules, loves tidiness, and loves unfunny jokes. Ernestine loves chaos, loves a mess, and loves to leave tea bags in the teapot. Braun and Schnoor manage to wholeheartedly display a Type A Ernest and quirky whilst turbulent Ernestine, each capable of keeping their character intact during corrosive moments.
These explosive scenes are not few and far between however. Ernest and Ernestine seem to hit their breaking point a few times, making the eruptions less impactful as the show goes on. This is not to say there’s a lack of creativity when trying to bring variety into these moments. Different resolutions to the verbal combats are attempted and some physical comedy strikes gold during these times. In particular, Ernest burning his hand on the home’s furnace incites an incredibly Home Alone-like reaction from Braun. Even so, when speaking about the overall physical comedy of the production, movements by the actors are very fluid. Inputting sharper actions and more pauses can create greater opportunity for a laugh from the audience.
Lighting design by Julia Van Damme is a feat of the production. The small amount of lights transform the studio space by shifting from spotlights to full stage coverage to pink and purple hearts plastered on the ceiling. It is a mystery to me how the lighting changes were done seamlessly even with the operators in view.
This review would not be complete without mentioning the costumes designed by Noah Solomon. Grey tie-dyed shorts onesies are seen on both actors and the cherry on top of the cake is the ingenious disc-shaped caps that magically stay put atop Braun and Shnoor’s heads. Needless to say, I would like one.
Ultimately, QTT is creating theatre in an exceptional way. Completely student-run, they’ve managed to put on a very well-constructed show in which passion for the project shines through. I encourage everyone to take a look at their digital programme to see just how many folks have gotten involved in this production. It’s very exciting to see students take the reins like this and I look forward to what QTT has in store for future productions.