by Lynn on March 24, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Toronto Free Gallery, 1277 Bloor St. W. Written by Tom Wallmsley. Directed by Jack Grinhaus. Set by Johnny Nghiem. Costume and lighting by Alyksandra Ackerman. Starring: Stephen Chambers, Sandy Duarte, Glen Matthews.

Produced by Doghouse Riley Productions. Until April 8.

Shannon is the nun on ‘vacation.’ At the top of the show she tells us she’s in love with another nun named Rose, who dumped her for Lorraine. I don’t know if Lorraine is also a nun. Shannon seeks solace from Brody, once a priest and now a psychiatrist. When Shannon was a teen she slept with the older Brody (when he was a priest) and has been in love with him ever since. Shannon is staying with Brody. Brody in turn is hot for Pierce, one of his patients. Pierce is married but is attracted to Henry. I don’t know what Henry does but he likes oral sex. When Pierce fires Brody, Brody feels confident he can make a move on Pierce without their being a conflict of interest. Brody invites Pierce over for some conversation and ‘other things’ one assumes. When Pierce gets a look at Shannon and she him, they get moist all over for each other.

Through all these many and various machinations, Brody assures Shannon and Pierce separately that he’s not gay; Pierce assures Brody he’s not gay because he’s married. Brody assures Shannon that she is gay. She’s so confused about her faith, her beliefs, her emotions and all sorts of other aspects of her confused life, that she asks Brody to marry her.

Welcome to the fraught world of Tom Walmsley’s latest play, The Nun’s Vacation and its world premiere produced by Doghouse Riley Productions. It’s a play that asks the question: “How do you believe in God and still get laid?” Usually Walmsley’s plays are concerned with the marginalized of our society, sex, drugs and violence.

The Nun’s Vacation
seems to me to be a departure from the ‘usual’ kind of Walmsley play. The stakes perhaps are higher, the questions loftier. The people are certainly not rough and tumble marginalized. Or maybe Walmsley’s getting older (as are we all) and these questions occupy him now.

Here he focuses on sexuality, faith, religion, God, desire, lust, and a bit of autobiography. Pierce is dying, we learn immediately. He’s on the list for a liver transplant. Never mind that he spends much of the play drinking liquor, which is not a good thing for a diseased liver. Years ago Walmsley needed a liver transplant too. He was deep into drug culture. And he got his life back when a ‘stranger’ gave him a needed piece of his liver. The donor? Playwright-actor-saviour, Michael Healey.

It’s quite fascinating how Walmsley changes the dynamic of the triangle of Shannon, Brody and Pierce ever so slightly. First it’s Shannon coming on to Brody; Brody ignoring her and coming on to Pierce who comes on to Shannon and she to him; and then it shifts to Pierce coming on to Brody and vice versa. With every scene the dynamic changes slightly. If one plotted the changing focus of the relationships it would be a tangle of jumbled lines. After a while that’s what the play seems, a tangled jumble.

It’s difficult to ‘hold on’ to any character because they are consistently either in denial, deluded, or disengaged. The result is that in the end, I don’t care about any of them or their angst. No character has revelation. No character acknowledges what they are: gay, straight, in love with whom or just lust. How can the audience engage if the characters hold us at arm’s length?

Of course there are plays with characters who deliberately don’t engage us. I just don’t think that’s very good playwriting. It’s almost as if Walmsley didn’t know when to stop with his character’s shifting allegiances.

The actors do honourable work. As Shannon, Sandy Duarte has that combination of sensual come-on, inexperience, and raging lust. Shannon pines for both men, She lusts for Pierce. She wants Brody—I just don’t know why. Perhaps that first sexual experience was enough to engage her. He does something during the play to kill that.

As Pierce, Stephen Chambers has that laid back, easy attitude that is attractive to both men and women. He is calculating in a quiet, charming way. And as Brody, Glen Matthews is fastidious in his pursuits of what he wants. Desperate at times, anxious, focused and annoying in not recognizing he’s gay. Of course Pierce is too it seems, but his easy charm lets him off the hook. A bit of a double standard, I know.

Director Jack Grinhaus keeps the traffic and pace going. He makes the connections between characters clear even as they change.

I just wish the play was better.

The Nun’s Vacation plays at the Toronto Free Gallery 1277 Bloor St. W. until April 8 Produced by Doghouse Riley Productions. Find them on Facebook.

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