Toronto Fringe NSTF: Deeply moving, interwoven look at the faces of loss & coping in Piece by Piece

Mary-Francis-Moore-and-Virgilia-Griffith-250x250
Mary Francis Moore & Virgilia Griffith in Piece by Piece

The loss of a loved one – to death, cognitive illness or break-up – is hard on everyone, especially on those who are left behind.

The McGuffin Company explores loss and coping in Alison Lawrence’s Piece by Piece, directed by David Ferry and running at the Factory Theatre Mainspace as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

The play is anchored by Steffi (Virgilia Griffith), a teen who has recently lost her mother to illness and her grief-stricken father Bert (Brian Young) to alcohol. Finding herself unable to return to school, Steffi returns daily to the ICU where her mother died – and this is where the interwoven stories of the play converge: Frank (Terrence Bryant), a professor who’s lost his mind to Alzheimer’s, and his wife Barb (Linda Goranson), who’s at her wit’s end looking after her changed husband; and geriatric specialist John (John Cleland), on Frank’s health care team, who’s dealing with a loss of his own – his wife Jessie’s (Mary Francis Moore) multiple miscarriages and behavioural changes, and the subsequent distance between them.

The ensemble does a remarkable job navigating the complex character relationships and responses as the stages of grief play out in various scenarios – with simmering rage, biting anger, dark humour and inconsolable tears – and revelations for each other and for themselves emerge.

Griffith is outstanding as Steffi, a smart-ass kid who’s wise beyond her years, her tough guy exterior masking the heartbroken child beneath – and her frank, often irreverent and humourous, monologues carry the audience through the process from her point of view and add context to the scenes that follow. Young does a nice job as her pathetically self-involved father Bert, who you can’t help but feel bad for as he stumbles around within his grief, even as he ignores his daughter while finding solace at the bottom of a tall boy. Bryant brings a lovely fragile quality to Frank, a once highly articulate and intelligent man whose mind has lost its way; and Goranson captures the complex layers of an exhausted wife struggling with her own frustration and pain as she tries to cope with his deteriorating condition – losing a beloved husband of 47 years before her eyes while he’s still alive. No doormat, Barb has chutzpah, but must come to the realization that she can’t function alone in this. Moore is edgy, raw and heartbreaking as Jessie, who distracts herself with the tragedies of others to avoid living in her own; and Cleland’s John is nicely understated as her supportive and struggling husband, spending as much time and energy trying to get Jessie to confront her mental health issues as he does on quashing his own anger and sense of futility.

Beyond the personal experience of coping with the loss of a loved one, Piece by Piece is about how those who are left behind lose themselves in the process – bit by bit, they change and nothing will ever be the same. It’s about finding support and community in order to move on. Each feels alone in his/her pain, but they can’t – and must not – get through it alone.

Piece by Piece is a deeply moving, interwoven look at the many faces of loss and coping.

Piece by Piece runs until Sun, Jan 18 – you can book tix ahead online.

Advertisements

A heartbreaking, erotic & darkly funny journey of identity & intimacy in Aromas

Aromas 4
Andy Fraser – photo by Tim Leyes

“Sex is never just about sex, it’s about so much more.”

The Junes Company* production of Aromas, written and directed by Andrew Faiz, and starring Andy Fraser, opened at Red Sandcastle Theatre last night.

Shifting between time, space and – possibly – reality, Aromas is a one-woman show, featuring two main characters (ice dancer Katalin and professional escort Chanel) and two supporting characters (Katalin’s immigrant mother and former schoolmate Angela), among others. Katalin resides in the past, recounting stories of the people, places and parties she’s experienced on tour. A traumatic childhood encounter with Angela and an ecstatic first time seeing Swan Lake with her mother were defining moments for her, flipping on a switch inside, directing her future path. Chanel talks about her life in the present; straightforward and professionally detached, her body is a commodity and its commercial activity allows her the experience of physical intimacy without the underlying baggage that accompanies romantic relationships. A grown-up Angela, still dealing with ongoing anger management issues, sees Katalin’s life as exciting and glamourous – and can’t help but take credit for being a catalyst for it.

The question of identity arises: are Katalin and Chanel the same person? Is Chanel a fantasy for Katalin – or an evolution of spirit? Katalin wonders herself, who is she – is she merely a product of her experiences, set on certain paths by critical life events? One of the most touching – and telling – lines from the play comes from Chanel: “The Kama Sutra is a book of prayers you do with your body. Even a broken body wants to pray.” Here, this reference touches on the true physical intimacy – and spirituality – of being totally present, as well as making reference to a severely disabled young client – and possibly even regarding Katalin. In the end, we see that, while Katalin is damaged, she is not broken; drifting and in need of closure, but not without hope.

Fraser gives a stunning performance. As Katalin, she is vibrant, vulnerable, irreverently funny and flirtatiously sexy, seizing the day and acting on instinct and, in some cases, impulse. Chanel is wry-witted and sophisticated, approaching her work in a detached and professional manner – but not without sensuality, empathy and compassion. Or is that Katalin? The performance is compelling in its character and time shifts – and the storytelling is gut-wrenching and deeply poignant, with hints of edgy humour.

Brandon Kleiman’s set, with boxed rows of hotel room keys as a backdrop, provides an visually appealing and versatile playing area for this production, the story unfolding nowhere and anywhere, past and present; and his costuming both distinguishes and describes the characters. Ed Rosing’s lighting provided atmosphere for the action, most notably some warm, sensual ambers, as well as cues to the shifts in time and scene. Sound designer Richard Jones built a soundtrack around contemporary pop and snatches from Swan Lake, and original composition, from incidental to industrial synth, nicely underscoring the storytelling. The sense of smell, a highly evocative key to memory, and what it perceives – hence, the play’s title – while not physically present, is highlighted in the text.

All of this is held together and kept running by the production’s intrepid stage manager Margot “Mom” Devlin (a name that Alumnae Theatre Company fans will recognize from countless shows there), who was multitasking as sound and lighting operator, as well as box office for the opening performance.

Aromas is a heartbreaking, erotic and darkly funny journey of identity and intimacy, a moving piece of non-linear storytelling, compellingly told.

Aromas runs at Red Sandcastle until October 4. You can purchase advance tickets online or at the door (cash only). And you can follow Aromas on Facebook.

*The Junes Company is “a flexible collective of comprised of professional theatre/film/TV performers, creators and producers.” Past shows include A Damn Fine Nite of Actors, an evening of short plays written, directed and performed by the “Monday Niters.” The company will be mounting a production of The Lion in Winter at Alumnae Theatre next year, directed by David Ferry, and featuring Shawn Lawrence and Rosemary Dunsmore.