by Lynn on April 6, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

l-r: Caroline Gillis, Clare Coulter, Jessica Moss (photo by Cylla von Tiedemann)

The following reviews were broadcast on Friday, April 6, 2012 CIUT FRIDAY MORNING 89.5 FM between 9 am and 10 am. WAS SPRING at the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space until May 6; CLYBOURNE PARK at the Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs until April 28.

The host was Rose Palmieri

1) Good Good Friday morning. Even when it’s a holiday, nothing stops Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer from telling us what’s new in the theatre and what we should or shouldn’t see.

Hi Lynn.

What do you have for us this week?

I have two plays both are different in their story-telling, but both are written by master story-tellers. First, WAS SPRING by Daniel Macivor at the Tarragon Theatre.

Then CLYBOURNE PARK by Bruce Norris at the Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs, produced by the spunky company, Studio 180.

2) Since it’s already spring, let’s start with WAS SPRING.What’s the story?

Three women remember a tragic event.

Old Kitty, middle-aged Kath and young Kit. Old Kitty is crotchety, desperate for a cigarette and doesn’t like the person upstairs because she smiles all the time. She has prickly observations of how old people are treated—mainly like silly children.

She longs for a good book—Kitty was a reader. So she’s got an impish sense of humour. This is not a mean, angry senior citizen. She’s just crotchety.

She is joined by middle-aged Kath who is a different story. She’s bitter, angry at the world and especially at Old Kitty. Kath has lead a life of disappointment, misery and it has informed her attitude and her outlook on life, which is pretty negative.

Finally they are joined by young Kit. She is in her 20s; buoyant, sweet, giddy even, always cheerful and longs for a young man and finally lands him and is ecstatic about that.

But there are consequences. The other two chide her for her innocence, although Old Kitty seems to feel more kindly to her than Kath does. The three women bicker, snipe, wound and forgive.

3) Since the women know each other, how are they related, if at all?

That’s one of the many beauties of Daniel MacIvor’s writing. We aren’t sure. Are they mother, daughter and granddaughter? Are they the same woman at three stages of her life remembering and lamenting? They certainly know each other very well, their many mistakes and faults and even a few good points. There are clues.

Like people who know each other very well but don’t like each other, they know how to zero in on the weaknesses of each other. I spent a lot of time fluctuating thinking they are related and then thinking they are the same person at different times in their lives. Then it came clear in the writing and production. Even after knowing, I don’t think it matters.

Welcome to pure Daniel MacIvor country. WAS SPRING is a delicately woven mystery. Who are these women? It’s a story of regret, guilt, avoidance and compassion. It is elegantly written, dazzlingly poetic, multi-layered and squeezes the heart again and again.

4) MacIvor also directs his own play—something you have questioned in the past with other writer directors—how does he do?

Beautifully. He has said that he began directing his own plays because other directors generally didn’t get his nuance and subtleties. Well he of course nails them here.

First Old Kitty comes on and sets the scene for us. Then she is joined by the other two, separately. Middle-aged Kath joins her, snipping, grimacing, establishing her intense bitterness, and Kitty returns the harsh feelings. Then innocent Kit. They each wonder how the other changed from who they were to who they are now.

The set is simple—three chairs—but the women, circle, spar, and engage with each other and us. The performances from Clare Coulter (Kitty), Caroline Gillis (Kath) and Jessica Moss (Kit) are spot on wonderful.

Coulter is a quirky actress who makes Kitty quirky. She’s almost impish here, but at the end you see a woman who has gone through a lot and come out at peace. As bitter Kath, Caroline Gillis is not afraid to present an abrasive character without holding back, and making us want to like her. We learn slowly what her story is.

As young Kit, Jessica Moss is flighty, smiley, innocent. The character has not really been that affected by the life that will change her when we see her. Perhaps she’s in denial.

The other two characters have the benefit of sobering hindsight and drag young Kit into facing her past. All this is weaved with delicacy and a firm hand by Daniel MacIvor.

I love the play and his production.

5) What’s the story of CLYBOURNE PARK?

Written by Bruce Norris—won a Pulitzer Prize for this play.

The play takes place in 1959 and 2009. The first Act takes place in 1959 in the house of a white couple (Russ and Bev) who have sold their house through an agent and are packing up to move. There has been sadness in that house and they want to leave it behind. Because an agent did all the dealing, Russ and Bev never met the family who bought the house.

What they learn late is that a black family has bought the house. Up-tight, righteous white neighbours don’t want the black family to move into the neighbourhood and they try and dissuade the black family from moving in by trying to buy them out.

This first Act of CLYBOURNE PARK echoes the wonderful play: A RAISIN IN THE SUN, in which a struggling black family inherits a lot of money and the mother wants to move the family into a better neighbourhood—a white neighbourhood, called Clybourne Park.

The second Act of CLYBOUNE PARK takes place in 2009 in the same house. This time the tables are turned. A white couple wants to move into the house and this time the neighbourhood is predominantly middle class black. The white couple want to tear down the house and build
their own.

There is a meeting between the white couple buying the house (Steve and Lindsay) and a black couple representing the neighbourhood (Lena and Kevin) plus a lawyer and a realtor, I believe, trying to discuss how large the house should be to keep the integrity of the neighbourhood.

I love how the writer, Bruce Norris, subtly deals with the race issues in both time periods and yet the prejudices are there.

5) How so?

In the first act, the social divide is so obvious. The righteous whites don’t hide their prejudices. The blacks—a housekeeper and her husband—are cheerfully accommodating but know that they are not treated with the same regard by the genial white couple selling the house, as they treat everybody else.

In the second Act a black couple (Lena and Kevin) who live in the neighbourhood, are obviously well educated, travelled and want to negotiate in an accommodating way. As do the other characters too.

We see that some of the characters in Act II have a connection to that house, and to characters from 50 years ago. The black couple want to keep the integrity of this now historic house. The others don’t see it that way.

So Norris has shown us that times have changed, as has social strata has developed and changed, but prejudice is still there, subtle, nuanced, but still there.

I love the stinging line of Lena explaining why she doesn’t like the white couple buying the house. And no I’m not going to tell you what that was.

6) It sounds complex. How does the production do?

I think director Joel Greenberg does a lovely job of illuminating both time periods and therefore bringing out the subtleties of the play and the characters.

In Act I, 1959, the women wear dresses, are almost artificial in their demeanour to please, I thought of MAD MEN in a way. The prejudice is so stingingly overt. Greenberg brings out all the cringing reality there.

In Act II 2009, there is a blending of the social strata. There is not that social divide. There is an equal footing. The prejudice is subtle. As Lena waits to put in her two cents worth in the discussion, Audrey Dwyer, quietly fidgets and seethes. She plays the black housekeeper in Act I and there she is as smiling and accommodating, but you see her discomfort.

As Russ, Michael Healy is a wounded man trying to cope with a great sadness. He is frustrated by his neighbours and will be glad to move. In Act II he plays a grubby handyman working on the house, and is hilarious in his awkwardness.

The cast as a whole is terrific. Fascinating play and a wonderful production.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at

WAS SPRING plays at the Tarragon Extra Space until May 6. Box Office: 416-531-1827

CLYBOURNE PARK plays at the Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs until April 28. Box Office: 416-368-3110

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