David Lindsay-Abaire demonstrates that he is a multi-threat playwright, who here tackles a very sensitive subject—the aftermath of the accidental death of a four-year-old boy—with a simplicity that delivers a high level of sophistication without being “telly” at all. He trusts his audience to “get it”. And we do.
The story is tragic: a little boy is dead, and months later, his parents are still at a loss. The accident has affected their marriage and the repentant teenager who drove the car that fatal day. Among all the recrimination, guilt and despair is the cause: a happy little boy darted out into traffic after his dog.
You’re thinking this is a downer. That’s what I thought as well, but since Jan Irwin had directed it, and I wanted to see what Steve Martin (not that Steve Martin) had done to the ex-GCTC warehouse-conversion theatre, I had to go. So with some trepidation, Flora and I braved the hour and a half drive to Ottawa through the heavy autumn rain that reduced the visibility on highway 417 to about three car-lengths by the time we were in Ottawa traffic. Our resolve was rewarded with a remarkable production of a superbly written play in an astoundingly reinvented, spanking new The Gladstone.
As usual in that building, you are greeted by the open set, this time a minimalist representation of a slickly designed modern home with an open living-room/kitchen and a child’s upstairs bedroom.
The mood is set by two entrances: the wife, Becca, enters briskly and performs a household chore, and a forlorn figure passes by in the background, presumably on the street. We do not see this young man until later, when he narrates his letter to the parents, asking to meet them.
There are six characters in this play, Becca, Howie (her husband), Izzy (her sister), Nat (their mother), Jason (the teen), and Danny, the little dead boy, who never appears, but is everywhere.
Maureen Smith is a significant presence in this play, carrying Becca’s inexpressible rage within a brittle exterior that seems to have no available release. All through the play I wanted the action to take me somewhere, the script finally allowed it to happen in the final moments when Jason tells Becca about Prom night. Totally consistent with the rest of her performance, Smith played to that heart-wrenching moment with truth.
Brie Barker played Howie with a natural softness that carried the husband honestly through the emotional traps in this play. Where there could have been bombast, there was tension; where the could have been flippancy, there was depth. Welcome to Ottawa, Brie Barker.
Nancy Kenny, in her first professional appearance, as Izzy, shows wonderful promise. Her Izzy was a clear foil for the drama between Becca and Howie; she was both chorus and subtle comic relief. Lindsay-Abaire wrote her as a complex troubled post-teen and she was certainly up to the challenge.
Michele Fansett’s Nat projected just the right degree of being oblivious to how her foot-in-mouth gaffs were hurting the suffering parents. She played at just the right pitch.
Jesse Griffiths, as Jason, the teen killer/victim, has the challenge of playing a character it would be convenient to despise, as he killed little Danny; but Jason is so scrupulously caring and honest that you have to give in and like him enough to realize that he is suffering deeply, too. Griffiths certainly succeeded, as the subtly built intensity of the scene he plays with Smith attests.
This whole thing came together with grace, pace and balance thanks to some very thoughtful direction I am certain, by Jan Irwin, who has proved over and over that she is a force to be reckoned with in Ottawa. I am looking forward to seeing what she does with Klass Weringh’s All Changed in April at the Gladstone.
So we had a superbly written play, handled with subtlty and grace by five well-directed actors, on a very suitable set, in a very promising theatrical space. This all augurs very well for The Gladstone. I look forward to the rest of the season.
A Gladstone Production
Directed by Janet Irwin
Stage Manager: Samira Rose
Set Designer: Ivo Valentik
Costume Designer: Megan Duffield
Lighting Designer: David Magladry
Performance reviewed: Saturday October 25, 2008 2:30 pm
Running time: about 2 hours