Balfour Anderson, as described in the programme notes for No Compromise, has written 15 one-act plays and twice as many feature-length shows, including a couple L.T.M. pantomimes, supposedly our premier national showcase. The man has spent a lot of time putting pen to paper, or word to screen, or whatever his preferred method. Why, then, is his new play, about an office relationship, so flawed?
Why does Mr Thomas, a longtime executive, have it in for Monique, the new marketing manager, apart from the need for her character to face obstacles? Does Kathy, her best friend, have any purpose in life other than to visit Monique? Given that all Kathy does is offer Monique a willing ear, why does Monique talk awkwardly to herself in her office and apartment, instead of to Kathy as she otherwise does? Why does every sequence stretch well beyond its need? The first performance ran until quarter to eleven, not least because every sequence in the first act requires a set change. Most of Act Two takes place in a single master bedroom. Most of Act One, with little accommodation, could have transpired inside Monique’s office at Exquisite Perfumes.
The most serious flaw, however, is that Anderson abandons his protagonists in the second act. Up to intermission, their drives are clear—Stanley Preston, better at capturing scents than mates, is looking for a second chance at love; Monique Smith, having bounced between jobs, locations and relationships, is looking for stability at work and at home.
The first half of No Compromise is thus quite enjoyable, as Stanley and Monique dance around their attraction. Actors Bobby Smith and Aisha Davis fall short of looking in love, but their performances are still entertaining. Both make good use of their physicality. Smith has the air of a man who has always eaten well, and he borrows something from the pantaloon of old Italian theatre. Davis deploys her dancerly figure with the right restraint, teasing us as well as her fellow actors. Their scenes together, of which there are many, seem comfortable, although Davis may have been distracted by opening night jitters. Smith is at ease playing his enamoured businessman.
But having more or less achieved their objectives, the second act leaves them stranded, and No Compromise never fully recovers. Nadia Khan as confidante Kathy and Ainsley Whyte in dual roles as Mr Thomas and Pastor Myrie energize the stage with their comic timing and presence, but the actors cannot (and should not) rescue the drifting script.
Bobby Clarke’s direction is adequate, although the blocking (the art of moving the actors on the stage) could have better correlated with Stanley and Monique’s proximity to their goals, and the state of their relationship. Sound design is thoroughly effective, if a little conspicuous—music spilling through a security entrance evokes an entire nightclub; the noises of cell phones, which proliferate on the set, add a touch of realism.
Playwright Anderson tackles one of the unwieldy universals—the search for love. He gives us two of life’s messy acts—the excitement of the chase, and the stultifying routine that can subsequently steal in, like parasitic vines, and strangle a relationship. It’s just too bad No Compromise follows the same trajectory.