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Dishgloves off, 'Mom' serves up some appetizing dialogue

Published in The Ottawa Citizen
April 21, 1992

For the past 10 years flame-haired Ottawa actress Abby Hagyard has been internationally famous as ''Mom'' on the bad-mannered kids' show You Can't Do That On Television. Millions have come to know her as a frowzy version of June Cleaver, permanently adorned with apron and rubber-gloves, sweetly
intoning parental inanities.

The royalties from the popular series are welcome, but the exposure was a mixed blessing. A too-familiar face is a curse in the industrial films and training videos that are the backbone of Ottawa's production community.
As well, some producers began to judge her work solely on the series.

In entertainment, perceptions count.

A few years back, Hagyard, now 41, was briefly infamous locally when she was charged with fraud and theft when her dream of a Byward Market dinner-theatre popped -- with her owing $37,000 to season-ticket subscribers.

It didn't matter that by the time the wheels of justice delivered her to trial, she had scrimped and saved and repaid her debts. The fraud charge was dismissed, but the theft charge stuck, and she was left with a suspended sentence and a stack of newspaper clippings no actress would put in her

As Hagyard, a crackerjack actress but a bomb at bookkeeping, puts it, ''They hit me over the head with a Gatling gun for jaywalking.'' She was pardoned a couple of years ago.

This type of life experience is the backbone of Gloves Off, a half-hour collection of monologues on CJOH Saturday at midnight.

When one of her characters bemoans a lack of fluency in the concepts of debit and credit, there is more going on than the skewering of credit-card companies as pernicious exploiters of human frailty. Cleverness comes in layers in such lines as: ''You know, for the longest time, I believed there
would be money in my account if I had cheques left.''

The program's title is another minor exorcism, again tucked unobtrusively behind the words. Gloves Off works for the material, most of which leads with humor but follows with an emotional wallop. But it also serves notice: Abby Hagyard has a career outside of Mom's rubber gloves, and beyond past

Gloves Off, which Hagyard wrote as well as performed, was originally mounted at last summer's Manotick Fringe Festival where it gained critical and popular acclaim. The TV adaptation, trimmed by about 40 minutes, was shot before a live audience at CJOH's studios in December.

Producer Roger Price, creator of You Can't Do That On Television, was amongthose who saw the Manotick version and was amazed that there was so much more to Hagyard than Mom.

Price was impressed enough to promote the TV adaptation with CJOH, a station whose licence commitments have kept it on the prowl for local programming that can be inexpensively produced.

Inexpensive is the key. The TV version is too short to include the segues that nailed the stage performance together. And the cabaret set that it is performed on is not quite suited to the material which, despite superficial resemblances, is not stand-up comedy.

But in a way, the simplicity of the production works in Hagyard's favor. Her words and her performance are on the line here and they can stand on their own.

Hagyard's monologues include a sardonic look at the inevitable conflict between the traditions of reserved femininity and the rigors of a gynecological exam (hence the late-night scheduling), and more poignant fare such as an autobiographical account of self-conscious teenager cruelly tormented
by a handsome classmate.

The performance, especially when Hagyard flashes her guileless smile, is engaging, and the writing strong and sure. It's this latter talent the Hagyard hopes to hone. She's written another piece for this year's fringe
festival, a one-act play to be performed by others. She's also working on a novel, a murder-mystery.

A decade or so ago, Hagyard introduced herself to Ottawa audiences with another one-woman show, based on the life and works of acid-tongued writer Dorothy Parker. Like Gloves Off, it was a statement of intention.

''I wrote a play, hired a stage, invited the press and said, 'Look at me, I'm an actress.''' says Hagyard. ''It worked before, so I though I'd try it again.''