FRINGE REVIEW

You will be saying ‘take me to the Church’ By Joe Belanger, The London Free Press Friday, June 12, 2015

Diane L. Johnstone performs Desperate Church Wives at the Fringe Festival.

Diane L. Johnstone knows a thing or two about redemption. She also knows a thing or two about the Bible.

So, what is a congregation to do when the Sunday school teacher and minister’s wife is arrested for prostitution?

That’s the premise of the show about a former stripper and drug abuser, now an ordained minister — Desperate Church Wives — on at The Bank venue for London Fringe.

Add fine actor to Johnstone’s resume.

The Mississauga minister drew a standing ovation for a wonderful performance portraying all six characters in the show.

It’s an updated version of the story in the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Hosea (Hosea 1:2) that tells of Hosea marrying a prostitute, Gomer.

Johnstone’s handling of the various characters — gathered for a church meeting to decide what to do about the scandal — is seamless.

She brings nuances to define each of her characters, from vocal inflections to physicality.

This is a very funny, heartwarming show that opens with Grandma Word, a church elder, arriving to offer cookies to the audience (who substitute as the congregation) and introduces us to the various characters.

There is also Pastor Hortense leading the meeting, Clarissa, a “bourgeoisie Southern belle,” Minister Hosea, church member and ex-stripper Barbara, and the harlot wife, Gomer There is nothing preachy about this show, so it will appeal to atheists and believers alike. It’s an especially nice reminder to all of us about the perils of judging a book by its cover.

--- --- --- Desperate Church Wives **** (out of five)


 

Consummate skill

Desperate Church Wives Is A Hit!!

Written and performed by Diane L. Johnstone, Desperate Church Wives will have you rolling in your pews. From the moment we enter the Main Stage space at 141 Park St. we are wholly included in the action as Church Elder Grandma Word assails us with boisterous greetings and plates of chocolate chip cookies and we assemble noisily into our places. The laughing and chatting continue with unselfconscious neighbourliness. The setting is a church, and from what I can tell, it’s a religious community of Black Christians with a strong U.S.flavour, although my experience with this is vicarious at best, from stage and screen.Nonetheless, hey, I’m at home there with Grandma Word and her chocolate chip cookies! For all I know (or care) it could be downtown Hamilton as well as uptown Baltimore (more about that in a second). There’s fun going on, and before long, let me warn you, there’s trouble a-brewing.

Yes. This is Bible-centric, this hour, and it soon transpires that we are to have a 21st century telling of the sad tale of the Prophet Hosea and his ex-harlot wife Gomer. We are brought forward from the Old Testament to today, and when God instructs his servant the Reverend Hosea to marry and Hosea asks God where to find a wife, well readers, God’s answer had our congregation in a sustained uproar of laughter for several seconds and didn’t we know readily where we were culturally and geographically! No spoiler here. See this remarkable show and find out for yourselves.

Nothing brings an audience closer to a work of theatre than truth. No matter how much comic bravado a writer/performer provides, if the truth of her is not evident soon, it’s all froth. Okay, we get a lot of that in theatre and love it, but if we have a story to tell about ourselves, let’s feel, sense, touch, hear it, the truth. Ms. Johnstone delivers beautifully. This is her own tale of loss and of redemption, and as hard as we laugh, as confident we are of the presence of her. She takes us with consummate skill through all six of the main characters of her story, and then some, but when she comes to Gomer, we know who she is from the truth of her. Wonderfully abetted by skillful use sound cues and disciplined direction, Johnstone commands the space magnificently. The arc of her life’s story is sure and clear, moving through hilarious burlesque and an earthy mix of Bible and bawd, it takes its course steadily and arrives at resolution firmly in the closing scene. You’ll know and love them all, Grandma, sleepy Pastor Hortense, Clarissa the faithless betrayer, humiliated Reverend Hosea, reformed stripper Barbara, and ultimately the harlot wife, Gomer. If you waste too much time getting to 141 Park St. for one of shows left this week you may have a long line of ticket buyers ahead of you. Get a move on. This show is a HIT!

Tom Mackan


NOW Magazine gives it 4 NNNN's. "In this funny solo show, gifted character actor Diane L. Johnstone brings to life a range of churchgoing folks. . .

Mooney On Theatre Winston Soon: highly encourages everyone to check out Desperate Church Wives. It is why the Fringe was created. Simple, site specific, no lights, just great acting. The scene where Diane Johnstone plays with her ear wax while stripping is worth the price of admission alone.

Bourgee–Bush Woman

 

"talented performer, accents strong, characters vivid"

Eye, July 2002

 

"Magnetic performer"

NOW, July 2002

 

Stunningly lyrical one–woman show. Star Diane Johnstone brings
five unique characters to full realization, all with their own
distinct voice and presence. Riveting writing and outstanding
direction that is both deceptively simple and breathtakingly
moving. Johnstone’s intelligence and talent come shining
through. A performance that you don’t want to miss!

VIEW Magazine – 2007

 

Church Street, walk the talk – “heaps of riotous back-fence talk, amusing anecdotes and colloquial zingers” *** - Eye Weekly 2009