Tuesday, March 23, 2010
COMMUNION - NEW PLAY AT TARRAGON DISAPPOINTS
Reviewed by James Karas
Communion, Daniel MacIvor’s new play at the Tarragon Theatre is simple and direct and may contain a great deal of subtext but it lacks text and theatricality. After eighty-four minutes with no intermission you step out of the theatre wondering what the play was all about and was it worth it after all.
A woman with the dramatic name of Leda (Caroline Gillis) is visiting her therapist Carolyn (Sarah Dodd). We don’t know if the therapist is a psychologist or psychiatrist but it may not matter. Leda is distraught, dramatic, and to call her a low-life may not be overly crude. Let’s say she has had a troubled life what with being an alcoholic, a woman estranged from her daughter and searching for advice.
The therapist probes into Leda’s life, coolly, carefully. She maintains a suggestion of a smile on her face but displays no emotion. She is the quintessential professional who asks a lot of questions and makes few comments. Leda is ill with cancer and she throws herself back on her chair at times as the sad narrative of her life is revealed. This is of some interest and may do nicely in a novel but it is not particularly theatrical.
In the next scene we meet Leda’s daughter Annie (Athena Lamarre). Mother and daughter confront each other in a hotel room and we are about to go behind what Leda was telling her therapist. The first thing we notice is that Leda is a different person from the Leda of the first scene. She is spruced up, reasonable and desperately trying to connect with her daughter whom she has not seen for many months.
Annie is angry, bitter and hateful and once she sets that tone she maintains it almost to the end of the play. Some variation on the theme would have been apropos but MacIvor is not interested in that. Annie is religious zealot but the sect she belongs to does not seem to be interested in love, charity or forgiveness. Annie married Bud some time ago but she did not invite her mother to the wedding. Her father and his new wife were there. Annie reveals that she is pregnant and the scene ends.
In the final scene Annie meets, indeed confronts, Carolyn. The latter is closing her practice and moving away. She is no longer the dispassionate therapist but a lesbian whose relationship has fallen apart and who is not happy with what she achieved in her professional life. We learn that Leda whose real name was Linda is dead and that Annie has given birth.
The confrontation ends with Carolyn sitting in the chair that Leda occupied in the firsts scene and throwing her head back the way her client used to do.
The situation and the characters are mildly interesting but are they interesting enough to sustain a whole play? There are flashes of humour but hardly enough to provide much bitter laughter.
Annie recalls going to Catholic service in her youth and taking communion and she calls the people lining up for it as “the catholic fashion review.” A good line. She has spent time in jail and has become a religious fanatic. This may be tragic or tragic-comic but Annie is far too bitchy in her scene with her mother to evoke much sympathy.
The play opens with the words “It’s the question” and there is the recurring theme of what lies behind the door and the fact that we fear the light rather than the darkness. That may be true but is there enough substance in MacIvor’s characters or their situation as he develops it for us to care about them.
In other words we may be interested in the philosophical question posed without being able to apply it to the situation in which these people are involved.
MacIvor directs his own play. Caroline Gillis in effect plays two different characters in the two scenes that she appears. The play gives her a good opportunity to display her acting talent by doing two very different people and she does it very well.
Athena Lamarre is limited to acting the angry and bitchy daughter until she breaks way from that posture near the end of the play. She does well within the limitations placed by the script and the director. Better character development by MacIvor would have displayed her talent in even better light.
Sarah Dodd has similar constraints. She is the dispassionate therapist in the first scene but she is allowed to become human and even move around in the last scene.
A disappointing night at the theatre.
Communion by Daniel MacIvor opened on March 3 and will run until April 4, 2010 at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario. http://www.tarragontheatre.com/. 416 531-1827