Theatre review: the many pleasures of Pleasureville

Neptune Theatre premieres Ellen Denny’s comedy that will leave you wanting more

Breton Lalama and Julia Topple in the Neptune Theatre production of Pleasureville. Photo by Stoo Metz.
Breton Lalama and Julia Topple in the Neptune Theatre production of Pleasureville. Photo by Stoo Metz.

Pleasureville has all the makings of a CBC hit – quirky characters, an endless supply of possibilities and a premise that would make viewers tune in week after week. As a play, it works pretty well too.

A Neptune Theatre premiere from Ellen Denny, Pleasureville chronicles Leah Bowman who, following a break-up and the death of her great aunt, decides to move from the city to the small town of Pleasureville.

Bequeathed her aunt’s home and shop, Leah decides what the sleepy hamlet needs is a sex store complete with dildos, nipple clamps, and strap ons. Aided with a loan from her best friend and a helpful bypasser turned employee Rose, Leah sets out to bring sexual pleasure to a community she perceives as close-minded.

Of course, things don’t go as planned for Leah or the shop.

Sherry Smith doesn’t miss a beat as Rose. Whether knitting while wearing a strapon or getting into a fiery debate about whether or not raising a family is work, her performance is clear, thoughtful and hilarious.

It’s exciting to see a role written for and played by a non-binary performer. As Ash, Breton Lalama scores big, whether they’re swaggering about the stage or feeling genuinely hurt by their best friend’s betrayal. One hopes this won’t be the last time we see Lalama.

As played by Julia Topple, you instantly want to cheer for Leah, a down on her luck, gal, to succeed. Topple is so optimistic that you want the best for her.

Unfortunately, it is one of the only missteps in Denny’s writing. Often making Leah selfish, this is particularly evident in an argument in the second act which does little to counter the discussion around the self-obsessed millennial. Though not a small thing, it certainly doesn’t diminish the many strengths of Pleasureville.

Breton Lalama, Julia Topple, and Sherry Smith in the Neptune Theatre production of Pleasureville. Photo by Stoo Metz.
Breton Lalama, Julia Topple, and Sherry Smith in the Neptune Theatre production of Pleasureville. Photo by Stoo Metz.

Director Annie Valentina makes full use of the Scotiabank Stage, moving her three actors throughout the venue. It does lead to some longer than necessary scene changes, which will likely be tightened up through the run.

Pacing is never an issue in the actual scenes, with the three performers making quick hay of Denny’s rapid-fire dialogue. It is effective in allowing the actors to breathe where necessary while leaving the audience breathless with laughter elsewhere.

Special mention must also go to sound designer June Zinck for creating a kooky soundscape that perfectly punctuates Pleasureville.

In the end, I wanted more. I wanted to see Rose leading a sex toy party. I wanted to see Leah navigate smalltown Pleasureville. I wanted Ash to find another queer-identifying person that would make the trip from the city worth it. The possibilities are endless. While Pleasureville has definite legs as a theatre piece, I am far from done with these characters. One can only hope that a CBC executive sees a performance and brings it to the small screen.

The same goes for Ellen Denny. One hopes this is just the beginning of a long-term relationship with Neptune Theatre.

Pleasureville by Ellen Denny. A Neptune Theatre production. On stage at the Scotiabank Stage (1589 Argyle St, Halifax) until October 20. Visit neptunetheatre.com for tickets and information.

Editor’s Note (6 October 2019): This review was edited to reflect the correct spelling of one of the actor’s names. We apologize for the error.