by Lynn on December 3, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At The Citadel, 304 Parliament St., Toronto, Ont.

Written by Colleen Murphy
Directed by Ken Gass
Set by Marian Wihak
Costumes by Jung-Hye Kim
Lighting by Rebecca Picherack
Original music and sound by Wayne Kelso
Cast: Alex McCulloch
Paolo Santalucia

A play about two wounded souls trying to make it through.

The Story. Corporal Michael Armstrong and twelve year old Halley Armstrong (no relation) have a lot in common. They are both fighting their own private demons. They are brought together by books. Corporal Armstrong is in an Ottawa hospital, recuperating from wounds he got while fighting in Afghanistan. Halley is a twelve year old confined to a wheelchair with an over-protective mother who keeps on calling to see if she is alright. Halley is also a Girl Guide trying to amass her various badges. In this case she has volunteered to be a reader for people in hospital. She is assigned to read to Corporal Armstrong. He doesn’t want any part of it. Halley is persuasive and persistent. Books bring them together. Writing helps in dealing with their separate wars. And they debate. Corporal Armstrong and a friend in Afghanistan both made a devastating promise to the other if anything should go wrong over there. That has weighed terribly on the Corporal. Halley has her own secret that she finally tells Corporal Armstrong. They argue about hope, hopelessness, responsibility, and trying to live in the other person’s ‘shoes’.

The Production. Marian Wihak’s set of the sparsely furnished hospital room surrounded by sand, puts us in the dual worlds of Corporal Armstrong; hospital and Afghanistan. He hobbles around on crutches because his right leg is badly hurt. He hides under the bed, as if he was in a trench, hiding from the enemy. He is restless. Paolo Santalucia plays him with his guilt at what he did to his friend weighing on him, and with a kind of optimism as well, when he learns the power of writing.

Halley Armstrong barrels into Corporal Armstrong’s room with determination and the drive of a race car driver only in a wheelchair. This is a kid on a mission. As Halley, Alex McCulloch is forceful, direct and impatient. She has little time for a dissenting voice. She is going to read to the Corporal whether he likes it or not. McCulloch’s voice is properly abrasive, staccato, and the words come out in a torrent. Halley too has her secrets and she hides them with a barely concealed temper. She’s always in a rush, whether it’s scooting expertly in her wheelchair or zipping and unzipping the endless compartments in her backpack. She is methodical. She knows where everything is. But she’s always in a rush because her mother is always calling her to see if she’s ok. Halley has the blinkered conviction of a young person who doesn’t understand compromise. Both performances are dandy. Ken Gass directs this with care and sensitivity. The constant movement of each character illuminates their impatience, frustration and restlessness.

Comment. Colleen Murphy’s plays explore the wounded human heart; characters who make decisions that have huge consequences. She does it in a quiet, yet resounding way. With Armstrong’s War two people, Corporal Armstrong and Halley, are in the same restricted world, coping as best they can, finding solace in reading stories and writing their own. In the case of Corporal Armstrong Murphy makes us questions what we would do if we made a promise to a friend and then couldn’t fulfill the promise. She also makes us question what is hopeless and what might be hopeful and if one sides with the former over the latter is that a sign of defeat or just wisdom?

Armstrong’s War is a delicate play about two situations that are anything but delicate. It’s been given an equally sensitive production by all concerned. In this crowded theatre season, this is well worth a visit.

Presented by Canadian Rep Theatre.

Opened: Nov. 17, 2015
Closes: Dec. 6, 2015
Cast: 2; 1 man, 1 woman.
Running Time: 80 minutes approx.

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