A&E » Arts

Misery loves company


WHAT: A Fine and Pleasant Misery: The Humour of Patrick F. McManus


WHEN: Friday, Oct. 26, 8 p.m. (7:30 reception in lobby)

It’s a miserable experience that will leave you laughing. A roller coaster of adolescent fears and mirth that keeps connecting with audiences nearly 20 years after it was written.

A Fine and Pleasant Misery began as the first story in a line of successful tales by American writer Patrick F. McManus. His works, The Grasshopper Trap, Real Ponies Don’t Go Oink, and The Night the Bear Ate Goombaw, have appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list, with McManus’s 14 books selling better than 5 million copies.

It wasn’t until 1992 when an Eastern Washington University graduate (where McManus was a professor of English and journalism) suggested he try writing a play that McManus had even considered the idea. McManus resurrected his 1978 release, A Fine and Pleasant Misery, and adapted the story to a one-man play for a former student. That student was Tim Behrens, a name now synonymous with McManus’s work.

"Tim went out and booked this theatre before I had even thought about writing the play. So then I had to write it," laughs McManus. "I had no idea whether people would laugh or not. We showed up and it was standing room only with about 600 people. I told Tim, ‘I’m not even going to sit in the audience, I’m going to sit in the lobby. If they don’t laugh in the first five minutes, I’m walking away, leaving you to your fate!’

"It was kind of a spectacular start but we thought that was the end of it. We had done it as a one-time benefit but the next week we started getting calls from universities from all over the place. Tim quit his job and went to work as an actor and now he’s performed my four plays to hundreds of thousands of people."

Behrens brings a dozen characters from McManus’s childhood memories to the stage, including a snake and a dog. The characters are all real – "although a few are slightly embellished." Using McManus’s very real fear of the dark as a central theme, the two-act play weaves its way through childhood misadventures, each memory triggered by discoveries in an old trunk. If audience reaction is any indication, the tales are timeless, touching young and old right in the funny bone. Even the most theatre-shy Whistlerite will identify with the play, in particular its many outdoor recreation references.

"Although we do get the sophisticated theatre-goers, it’s the first time for a lot of our audiences. We took the play to Pennsylvania for the first time last January and it was a big hit obviously for the recognition factor. Anyone who’s had any outdoor experience will pick up on it," says McManus.

"We also get a tremendous response from little kids. We’ve had at least two of them laugh so hard they wet their pants."