Audience split on foul language in The Norwegians

Some have criticized profanity in the play, but the group says it’s appealed to a new audience

Many Hats Theatre members say The Norwegians is sparking some unexpected controversy, as it enters its final week of production.

Not strangers to curse words, cast members say they were a little surprised to see some blowback for some of the language used in the play.

“We’ve had people who’ve loved it, and we’ve had people who have not loved it,” said actress Shannon French, who plays Olive, the play’s lead role.

“Some of our more traditional, long-time patrons aren’t necessarily keen on a dark comedy with lots of profanity,” she said. “We’ve also had a lot of really great, positive responses. We’ve seen a lot of new, younger people in our audience. We’ve had a lot of newcomers, which is great.”

That said, French said the group knew a dark comedy is often going to appeal to a narrower crowd.

“There was going to be some people who it just would not be to their taste, but we can’t do the same show every time,” Shannon said.

Ed Schneider, Many Hats’ publicist, pointed out that the play — a black-box set with few props surrounding the actors — is very different from the group’s previous plays.

“It is a different show. It’s a black box set and black comedy,” he said. “It ain’t Oklahoma, it isn’t the Sound of Music.”

French, who described the play as “quirky,” said variety is a good thing for Many Hats.

“The way to keep your directors interested, your actors interested is to change it up, mix it up occasionally,” French said.

While the group has received a bit of blowback from the profanity in the play, they say they’ve had plays with more profanity than The Norwegians.

“Probably more Fins in the audience,” joked Tony Collins, who plays Gus, one of the two Norwegian hitmen paid to do a “job” on Olive’s ex-boyfriend.

“There’s something about this play that they’re actually listening to the words,” added Schneider.

The group speculated that the black box and dialogue-centric nature of the play likely contributed to that.

“A thinker’s comedy. That’s how it was described to me,” said Norwegians director Megan Kimberley. “It’s not a physical comedy. You can listen, and then you get it. So, it’s really stirred things up. It’s made me realize how quirky my sense of humour actually is.”

Jordana Fratianni, who plays Olive’s more blunt friend Betty, said her character takes a stab at different social groups, from Norwegians to Mormons, which she said can make for some disparate responses from different audience members.

“I feel the daggers coming at me a lot of the time with the dead silence after I’ve left the stage, or you kind of feel that tension of, ‘Oh, no, she’s coming back on, again,’” she joked. “Every audience is different, though.”

Others, she said, really enjoyed her role.

“I like controversial roles; that’s not a concern for me.”

As a play with a high concentration on the dialogue and little action, French said she did face some challenges coming into the cast late.

“This is my version of the extreme sport, for me. This is my version of free base jumping,” she said. “I’ve got the woman with the hook, thank God, because poor Jordana has been like herding squirrels, keeping track of me. She’s like, ‘No, you don’t go back out, yet,’ grabbing me as I’m going out.”

Despite the challenges, though, the group said the play coming to a close will leave them with the usual sort of postpartum depression.

“Anytime you do a big, beautiful project and it’s a team sport, like I said, so anytime you have a big team that’s working together and having fun, there’s always an element of sadness and letting go,” said Kimberley.

“There’s a nostalgia to it, because it’s never going to happen, again.”

This weekend will be the final run for the play, with tickets still available at the Nest and Nectar, but work has already begun on the next play for Many Hats, called Real Estate.

That play has been cast and has gone through first read-through, with plans to run in September.