by John Misto
Directed by Nicole Buffoni
The Ensemble Theatre until September 30
Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP
So an Irishman, a Canadian and a Polish woman walk into New York City. What happens next?
Lip Service tells the story of the battle between three industrial giants. Helena Rubinstein, Elizabeth Arden and Charles Revson, who created the Revlon company, fight for market share in the rapidly growing skin care and cosmetics industry.
The main plot revolves around Rubinstein, a 4’10”, feisty, determined and driven Jewish woman who, incidentally, started her business in Australia. She’s scrupulously frugal and generous at the same time, giving an indication of the complexity of her character.
Rubinstein engages the services of journalist Patrick O’Higgins who becomes her devoted supporter and is later given broader responsibilities in the business.
In the adjacent building, the unseen Revson is the target of the paranoic Rubinstein’s regular verbal abuse. Elizabeth Arden has a respect/hate relationship with Rubinstein and they frequently meet to exchange bitchy remarks.
Amanda Muggleton has been perfectly cast as Rubinstein, a role that is big enough to take the gusto and talent that Muggleton always brings to her work. Linden Wilkinson provides the perfect foil as Elizabeth Arden whose real name was Florence Nightingale Graham The bitchy barb’s are highlights of this production and it’s reassuring to know that there are powerful, meaty roles for “women of a certain age”. The timing of both actors exhibits the skills that come from vast stage experience. As Patrick, Tim Draxl provides a necessarily strong balance to the women.
Nicole Buffoni’s direction of John Misto’s script is played very much for the laughs as well as giving an insight into the eccentricities and vulnerability of an industry icon. One irrelevant scene I suspect was motivated by nothing more than directorial self-indulgence.
Anna Gardiner’s versatile set design requires minimal adjustment to change scenes, and she continues to do wonders with the limiting size of the Ensemble stage.
The Ensemble’s Lip Service will be enjoyed more by infrequent theatre-goers, and regular attendees will appreciate the talents of the actors in this three-hander.