I was out for the opening of Nightwood Theatre’s production of The Happy Woman (by Rose Cullis, directed by Kelly Thornton) last night at the Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs – and what an opening! The place was packed with friends and family of the cast, agents, actors, other assorted theatre-related folks and Nightwood fans like me. I also had the pleasure of spending some time catching up with pal Heather Allin, who I hadn’t seen for ages.
As is always the case when I go to see a play, the first thing that struck me about The Happy Woman was Denyse Karn’s set. Brightly coloured, there’s a sky blue house facade up centre, the cut-out window and door openings like a wide-eyed, open-mouthed face. Cut out clouds float around the house and the blue extends down to the floor. There is a yellow kitchen stage left, balanced by the neighbour’s green porch stage right. Bright, fun, whimsical – like a child’s playhouse or a Saturday morning cartoon.
Even the characters have their signifying colours (Karn also designed the costumes). Margaret (yellow), the occupant of house with the yellow kitchen, is as chipper as her neighbour BellaDonna (green) is grim – polar opposites in their views of the world, a world for which BellaDonna is both witness and narrator, and reluctant confidant to Margaret’s daughter Cassie. Cassie (red) and her older brother Christian (blue) are also opposites. Cassie is wild and angry, searching for her place in the world, and mounts titillating performance art pieces that both amuse and disturb in their frankly sexual yet child-like presentation. Christian is the calm, “good son” – walking the path of suburban normalcy, while his very pregnant wife Stasia (pink) is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Steven, the deceased father of the family, is never seen but is featured prominently enough in the minds and conversation of the others to be a sixth, albeit invisible, character.
Thornton has an outstanding cast. Barbara Gordon is lovely as Margaret, blissfully ignorant to the darker side of her family’s relationships, and spending a lot of energy in her quest to be “normal” even as the lightning strikes and threatens to crack open long-hidden secrets. Maria Vacratsis’s BellaDonna is the perfect foil, the rain on Margaret’s parade, straight-talking, not so much a pessimist as a realist, and bordering on tender in her advice to Cassie. Maev Beaty shines as the troubled, passionate Cassie, feeling like an outsider in her own family, wanting to leave, wanting what she can’t have – and longing to be heard. Martin Happer does a lovely job as Christian, struggling with his shame to be a good son, and supportive husband and brother, his passion locked down even as Cassie’s is out there for the world to see. Ingrid Rae Doucet is compelling as Stasia, whose nightmares of global apocalypse and fears of birthing a monster clash with the facade of her perfect marriage with Christian – and push her sanity to the edge. Normal isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
The Happy Woman is darkly funny, heartbreaking and fairytale-like in its clash of whimsy and intensity – and you gotta go see it.
For more info and reservations, visit Nightwood’s website: http://www.nightwoodtheatre.net/index.php/whats_on/the_happy_woman