A family confronted with its own #MeToo secret in the complex, honest Lies and Consequences

You can’t change the past, but you can share it.

Rare Day Projects presents Carol Libman’s Lies and Consequences, directed by Jeanette Dagger and running this week only at Red Sandcastle Theatre. With the genesis of the play occurring well before the emergence of the #MeToo movement, playwright Libman was inspired to return to it and complete the script—and tell this story.

Lauded popular author Martha (Tara Baxendale) is under pressure to complete her next novel, inspired by Catherine the Great, as she juggles the scheduling nightmare that is her professional and personal life. Struggling with writer’s block, but looking forward to catching up with her sister Cathy (Martha Breen) at an upcoming weekend of celebration around her cousin/BFF Peter’s (Ryan Bannon) science award ceremony, she’s suddenly thrown back into the past when a drunken make-out session with her journalist boyfriend Andre (Derek Perks) goes from clumsily enthusiastic to overly aggressive, triggering the memory of a childhood incident of sexual assault.

Confiding in Cathy, Martha shares how their uncle John (Christopher Kelk)—Peter’s father and their deceased father’s brother—attempted to sexually assault her while they were alone at her home, retrieving chairs for a family picnic; she was 10 years old at the time. Peter’s wife Karen (Clara Matheson) has invited the whole family to a dinner in Peter’s honour—but Martha finds herself unable to attend, as she wishes to avoid all contact with John. She also doesn’t want to spoil Peter’s weekend by telling him what happened with John. Still wanting to see her cousin, she drops by his hotel room to congratulate him and decline the dinner invitation—where she bumps into John.

A confrontation between Martha and John in the hotel hallway grabs the attention of Karen and Peter, who invite them back into their room to learn what is amiss; they are soon joined by Cathy. Revelations, denial and gaslighting ensue, as the family divides into those who believe Martha and those who believe John’s version of the story—that Martha’s assertions are the result of childish misunderstanding and misinterpretation.

Lovely work from the cast on this timely, sensitive topic—covering the gamut of responses to a family incident of assault on a child. Baxendale does a nice job balancing Martha’s sharply intelligent and tightly wound adult side with the haunted, fearful child within. The past keeps rearing its ugly head, and Martha must find the courage to confront it if she’s going to have any peace. Kelk’s performance as John deftly combines the likeable with the deplorable; the supportive and trusted favourite uncle accused of having dark, secret desires—which John vehemently denies, spins and gaslights his way around. Classic victim-blaming and shaming, as the perpetrator makes himself out to be the wronged party as the survivor struggles with self-doubt and self-blame.

As Cathy, Breen brings a bubbly, positive, supportive light to the dark fog of Martha’s situation; open-minded, open-hearted and listening, Cathy is sharply contrasted by Matheson’s prim, controlling Karen—who seems to care more about avoiding disruption to her perfectly orchestrated celebration plans for Peter’s award. Bannon is adorakable as the brilliant but disorganized Peter, giving the performance an affable, absent-minded professor flavour. And Perks is both devilishly charming and sweetly supportive as Martha’s boyfriend Andre; not as woke as he might think, Andre’s willing to listen, learn and change his behaviour.

The ripples of sexual assault are far-reaching, impacting the survivor’s perceptions of time, space and intimacy—and, in this case, family dynamics. Internalized shame, self-blame, and the fear of not being believed or heard have silenced Martha, leaving her haunted and second-guessing herself. And it isn’t until she’s able to share her experience with Andre, who realizes he was in the wrong that drunken date night, that she’s able to fully communicate what was behind her reaction to his advances—and ultimately move on from the past.

Lies and Consequences continues at Red Sandcastle Theatre until May 5, with evening performances at 8 pm May 2-4; and matinées at 2 pm on May 4 and 5. Tickets ($25 general; $20 for students/seniors/arts workers) are available at the door (cash only), online or by calling 1-800-838-3006.

 

Advertisements

Lost music dreams & turbulent family reunion in Rare Day Projects’ bittersweet, poignant, funny A Very Different Place

Clockwise, from top left: Jeanette Dagger, Rosemary Doyle & Alexzander McLarry. Photo by Deborah Ann Frankel.

 

You can’t go home again, but maybe you can meet where you are. Rare Day Projects presents Carol Libman’s drama about lost dreams and family reunion, A Very Different Place, directed by Robin Haggerty and opening last night at Red Sandcastle Theatre. This world premiere began as a short play in Alumnae Theatre’s New Ideas Festival, later emerging at Big Ideas and Next Stage readings before reaching its current form at Red Sandcastle.

Teri (Rosemary Doyle) left home almost 20 years ago to pursue a career as a jazz singer with a talented man she loved—and that’s not all she left behind. Her mother Marge (Jeanette Dagger) was left to raise her son Mike (Alexzander McLarry). After a chance meeting in a Calgary hospital, where Teri now works as a nurse, Mike hatches a plan for a family reunion between his mother and grandmother at their home in Toronto—a plan that gets fast-tracked when Marge falls and breaks her hip. He needs to get back to work on an oil rig out west in a few days, and Marge—despite protestations to the contrary—needs assistance at home while she recovers and gets physiotherapy. Enter Teri, and the mother/daughter battle begins!

Old wounds, misunderstandings, resentments and suspicions emerge as Teri and Marge struggle through past and current conflicts—and try to make peace for Mike’s sake. Mike finds himself in the middle of the fray, playing peacemaker when all he wanted was to get his family back together. And Teri’s desperately trying to stay sober through the stress of this homecoming; attending AA meetings, where she addresses us as fellow Friends of Bill.

Nicely staged, with a turbulent musical prologue and snippets of classical piano favourites featured throughout (expertly played by Dagger) and a touching mother/daughter duet on “Summertime” (with Doyle shining on the vocals), A Very Different Place is bookended with music and moments of Teri’s AA sharing.

Lovely work from the cast in this touching, often sharply funny, three-hander—featuring some especially moving two-hander scenes between mother and daughter, and mother and son. Dagger’s Marge is a tough but amiable old gal with a decided stubborn, independent streak and an unbreakable determination to do what’s best, even if it costs her. Doyle’s Teri is a troubled adult child struggling to reconcile past and future choices, wobbling on the edge of petulant teen in the face of family conflict. Equally firm in her pursuit of independence—she comes by it honestly—like Marge, who once dreamed of being a concert pianist, Teri feels the sting of lost music career dreams and the necessity of setting herself on a new path in order to survive. McLarry does a great job as the glue trying to hold this family together as Mike navigates his own internal conflicts; like Marge and Teri, his life took an unexpected turn when he was forced to go west to find work. Setting up this family reunion as much for himself as for his grandmother and mother, Mike finds himself playing adult/referee when, deep down, he wants to feel a kid’s experience of love and family.

With shouts to SM/Technical Director Deborah Ann Frankel for juggling multiple tasks in the booth.

A Very Different Place continues at Red Sandcastle until May 13, with evening performances at 8 pm May 8 to 12; and matinees at 2 pm on May 10, 12 and 13. Tickets available at the door, by calling the Box Office at 416-845-9411 or going online.

 

Perception, alternate & artificial realities, & memories masked in New Ideas Week Three program

NIF2014-banner-1024x725Another exceptionally strong program of short plays at Alumnae Theatre Company’s New Ideas Festival (NIF) this week – Week Three, the final week of the fest.

Here’s what’s on the menu for Week Three:

Polish Your Pole, performed by Brenda Somers, is a hilariously funny, innuendo-filled pre-show piece in the upper lobby, featuring – you guessed it – what remains of the Firehall No. 4 fire pole across from the box office. Somers is brilliant in this very short piece, an added big fun element of the fest with one final performance tonight at 7:30 p.m. Always thought that pole was going underutilized. And it now has a name.

Airport Tale, by Carol Libman and directed by Carys Lewis, has a travelling senior citizen getting some life advice from an unlikely source when she’s detained at the airport. Jane Carnwath is a delight as the feisty, no nonsense Evalina Appelgee, and Andy Perun is sweet as the affable, flummoxed young airport bureaucrat Roger.

Would You Do It Again?, by Rebecca Grace and directed by Sandra Banman, is a futuristic peek at options for dealing with broken marriages as Hank and Wanda take some extreme measures to save theirs via an artificial intelligence unit named Chip. The Controller fills us in on the eternal sunshine of the forgetful mind as the play unfolds. Nice work by a very strong ensemble cast: Tim McConnell gives workaholic lawyer Hank some nice complex layers of tenderness and romance; and Sara Price does a lovely job of navigating Wanda’s inner conflict and sense of loss. Patrick Murray is deliciously campy and arrogant as the Controller, and Youness Tahiri is charmingly cocky and handsome as the Hank-infused Chip. What do you purge, and what do you keep or alter?

Simprov, by Laurence Klavan and directed by Stephanie Williams, finds Marjorie searching for escape in an artificial reality, which she may direct for a limited time and at significant financial cost. Dana Thody brings a great sense of desperate, energized purpose to Marjorie; and Buddy Black gives her boyfriend Alan a complex combination of pain, anger and drive to save her. Loriel Medynski and director Williams, who stepped in as a replacement actor, were marvelous as the two artificial reality actors – spunky, funny and sexy. How far will we go to escape our own lives?

Pit Sublime, by Alexandra Watt Simpson and directed by Pamela Redfern, is a grown-up fairy tale of withdrawal and denial, and put me in mind of the Paper Bag Princess through the looking glass. Charlotte is the Queen of vermin, barricaded in her world of trash, rhymes and personal baggage. Storming the battlements is Felix, a fierce young friend who must fight to break through Charlotte’s barriers. Rebecca Liddiard’s Charlotte is a remarkable, whirling ball of energy, engaging and drawing us in, even as she tries to push us away. (My pal Kerri MacDonald took on the role of her secretary at one point after she requested a volunteer from the audience.) And Andrew Gaunce’s Felix is wonderfully nerdy, loyal and relentless in his cause to save his friend from herself. Both handle the language with mercurial skill. Extremely entertaining, touching – and even educational – this play would also work very well with a young adult audience.

Perception, alternate and artificial realities, memories buried and secrets masked – the NIF Week Three program continues until tomorrow (Mar 30), with two performances today and one tomorrow.

In the meantime, the Week Three reading of Rotating Thunderstorm, by Taylor Marie Graham and directed by Jill Harper, goes up at noon today.

Reservations are strongly recommended as this is a popular festival. Call 416-364-4170 or visit the Tickets page on the Alumnae website.