A family slogs through the fallout of mental illness & tragedy in the brutally honest, wry-witted And So It Goes

Left: Deborah Drakeford & Scott McCulloch. Right: Tyshia Drake & Dan Willmott. Set & costume design by Kelly Wolf. Scenic art by Ksenia Ivanova. Lighting design by Chin Palipane. Photos by John Gundy.

 

Kyanite Theatre presents George F. Walker’s And So It Goes, directed by Walker, assisted by Martha Moldaver—running in the Pia Bouman Scotiabank Studio. A brutally honest, wry-witted family tragicomedy, the play’s title was inspired by a line from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five; and delivers the signature Walker punch to the gut realism with a side of dark humour, to highlight a critical social issue—in this case, the impact of a child’s mental illness on an already struggling family.

Karen (Tyshia Drake) is tormented with thoughts of people out to do her harm, while her father Ned (Dan Willmott) struggles to make ends meet after getting laid off his job as a financial advisor; and mother Gwen (Deborah Drakeford), a former Latin teacher, is at her wits end trying to maintain order amid the chaos. Charged with several alleged assaults, Karen is diagnosed with schizophrenia, a finding she neither accepts nor complies with—refusing to take her meds, and shutting herself off from her well-meaning good cop dad and controlling bad cop mom. In the background of this family’s life is an estranged son, who we never meet, who left home when Karen’s condition began to emerge. And then there’s Gwen’s imaginary confessor/therapist Kurt Vonnegut (Scott McCulloch), who she confides in—trading contradictory thoughts between glasses of white wine as she grapples with the fear and frustration of a world that’s gradually falling apart.

The upbeat Ned goes back to school to earn a pastry chef certificate; but even his positive outlook can’t withstand the family tragedy and financial ruin that ensues. Sifting through the debris of their lives for a way out—and who is to blame—he too reaches out to Vonnegut for advice. And acquires a gun. Gwen finds new footing with Karen as she begins to loosen her vice-like grip on the carefully tended middle-class world she once knew. As Gwen and Ned’s lives spiral downward to hit rock bottom, Ned hardens and Gwen softens. And the only directions from there appear to be out or up.

Lovely, heart-wrenching work from this ensemble in this fast-paced “life’s cocktail” of laughter and tears, and how humans cope with the fallout of tragedy and the destruction of the world as they know it. Drake is heartbreaking as the tormented Karen, who knows that something’s not right, but refuses to accept her diagnosis. The paranoia and voices in Karen’s head torture and exhaust her—aptly mirrored by Jeremy Hutton’s sound design, which features rapid-fire sound bites about mental illness and the negative impact on the economy and productivity, as well as the pervasiveness of depression and its connection to the current unemployment/EI situation.

Willmott’s Ned is a big, lovable bear of a dad with an equally big heart; the protective “good cop” parent in this family dynamic, Ned stays positive despite his daughter’s illness and wife’s sharp criticism. But even his sunny disposition loses its shine as their lives take a desperate turn—and he must decide if he will apply equally desperate measures. Drakeford’s Gwen is aggravating and deeply poignant; bitter, exhausted and longing for things to get back to normal, Gwen is the bad cop and harsh realist of the family. Desperately trying to put this family’s broken life back together, Gwen’s hyper-rational, sharp edges melt as she begins to let go and look for a new way to live. And McCulloch is a wry-witted, debating delight as Vonnegut; playing Devil’s Advocate and acting as a sound board for both Gwen and Ned, the imaginary friend and ghost Vonnegut is filtered through the thoughts and perceptions of whoever summons him.

Guns or lemon tarts? When faced with personal tragedy in the face of a society that’s losing its social conscience and sense of civility, we have the choice to descend into darkness or rise up into the light. And strive to build a new world from the rubble. One thing’s for certain: we need to pay more attention and apply more care to those who are losing their lives to mental illness, unemployment and despair.

And So It Goes continues in the Pia Bouman Scotiabank Studio until May 26, with evening performances Wed-Sat at 8:00; and matinées on Sat, May 18 and Sun, May 26 at 2:00. Advance tickets available online or pay cash at the door.

In the meantime, check out Arpita Ghosal’s interview with actor Deborah Drakeford in Sesaya.

Toronto Fringe: A delightful & moving journey across time & space, love & family in Rukmini’s Gold

rukminis_goldWent to see the Rukmini’s Gold, by Radha S. Menon – the winner of the 2015 Toronto Fringe new play contest – directed by Wes Berger and running at the Factory Theatre Mainspace.

An old woman (Rukmini, played by Dia Frid) in a white sari waits alone on a bench at a train station. Clutching a jewelry case and carrying a single suitcase, she reminisces about her life and family. A 12-year-old girl (Maya Huliyappa-Menon) joins her, and she is carried off on a journey of faces, memories and visions of the future. The hardships, happiness and lives of Rukmini’s family play out over the course of many years, across several countries – all bound by the precious family necklaces and bangles she leaves them to remember her by.

Really nice work from this ensemble, most of whom (except for Frid) play multiple characters: Frid, Huliyappa-Menon, Tony Sciara, Vivek Hariharan, Rishma Malik-Scott, Ellora Patnaik and Brittany Miranda, supported by understudy Sindhuri Nandhakumar. The scenes between Rukmini and the girl are particularly compelling and bookend the play nicely. Frid’s Rukmini plays up her age – her “condition” – but she is sharp as a tack and decidedly feisty. Huliyappa-Menon’s girl is precocious, energetic and bright, full of playful mischief. Who she is, I’ll leave for you to decide for yourselves – so you’ll have to go see this.

With shouts to the beautiful, evocative – and haunting – work of costume/props designer Kelly Wolf and sound designer Nicholas Walsh.

Rukmini’s Gold is a delightful, moving journey across time and space, love and family.

Rukmini’s Gold has one more performance at the Factory Theatre Mainspace: Sun, July 12 at 7:00 p.m.

World premiere of Nightwood production of Jordi Mand’s Between the Sheets – riveting & heart-wrenching

I had the pleasure of attending another world premiere of a work by an emerging female playwright last night: Nightwood Theatre’s production of Jordi Mand’s Between the Sheets, a two-hander directed by Kelly Thornton, and starring Susan Coyne and Christine Horne, onstage at the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space. Don’t let the short running time (approx. 1 hour) fool you – there is a lot going on in this hour in the classroom during parent/teacher interview night. And the stakes are huge.

Kelly Wolf’s set took me back to the first day of school, and I found myself walking past a perfectly rendered third grade classroom as I found a seat. Along the top of the green chalkboard are four printed cardboard trees, each set in different seasons, starting with Fall. Above the chalkboard, students’ paintings are taped up all along the wall. There is a large clock with big numbers and hands. A cubby with books and craft supplies. Small desks, with colourful duotangs set on top and blue chairs in front of them, dot the light blue floor in groups of three, miniature islands – smaller worlds within this small world. And in the background, the sound of rhythmic clapping, perhaps skipping too. Schoolyard games.

As the lights go down and come back up on this microcosm of life, we see Teresa, the young grade three teacher tidying up and preparing to leave following an evening of meetings with parents when Marion, the mom of a student named Alex, appears unexpectedly at her classroom door. A discussion of Alex’s social and academic progress turns to accusations of infidelity, as Marion accuses Teresa of having an affair with her husband Curtis. The intense battle of words that follows has both women fighting for their lives – riveting and heart-wrenching, with unexpected flashes of humour, and even compassion and understanding. In the end, as both are left to pick up the pieces of the evening’s revelations, Teresa is alone once more, the ticking of the clock becoming louder as it echos throughout the empty classroom.

Outstanding performances from both Coyne and Horne, with Horne’s Teresa showing surprising guts and strength beneath the sweet and fragile exterior, and Coyne bringing lovely layers to Marion – from imperious corporate lioness to exhausted, frustrated and confused wife and mother. Nice work, ladies! And I was very happy to bump into both of them as I was leaving so I could tell them so.

Also want to give a shout out to Nightwood’s 10,000 Women campaign in support of women’s voices in the arts, a fundraiser that the company is launching with this production. The aim is to get 10,000 donations of $10, with each donor offering the name of a woman in their life that they want to honour – the names will appear in print at the end of the campaign. For more info – and to donate – check out this page:  http://www.nightwoodtheatre.net/index.php/support/10000_women

Between the Sheets runs at the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space until October 7, with a post-show talkback – parenting and relationship expert Sara Dimerman with moderator Diane Flacks – coming up tomorrow night (Thurs, Sept 27): http://www.nightwoodtheatre.net/index.php/whats_on/between_the_sheets#tab4

For more info and reservations, please visit the Nightwood Theatre website: http://www.nightwoodtheatre.net/index.php/whats_on/between_the_sheets#tab1