by Lynn on September 21, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

l-r Susan Coyne, Christine Horne (photo by John Lauener)

Written by Jordi Mand. Directed by Kelly Thornton. Designed by Kelly Wolf. Lighting by Bonnie Beacher. Sound by Richard Feren. Starring: Susan Coyne and Christine Horne.

Produced by Nightwood Theatre. Plays at Tarragon Theatre Extra Space until October 7.

Between the Sheets is Jordi Mand’s first play and it’s a stunner.

She has written a gripping story of two women. Teresa is late 20s, early 30s and is a teacher of grade three. She is conscientious; caring of the children she teaches; aware of their strengths and weaknesses; and she’s having an affair with the father of one of them.

Marion is early 50s; ‘power-dressed’; works long hours in the corporate world to make good money; is the mother of one of Teresa’s students and the wife of the man with whom Teresa is having the affair.

Marion arrives at Teresa’s classroom late one evening, ostensibly for the parent-teacher interview, but really to confront Teresa with her evidence of the infidelity. Marion asks questions of her son’s progress. There is a subtle edge to the delivery of each question. Teresa tries to answer them with grace and efficiency. But then the real reason for the visit is revealed. Marion has copies of every e-mail sent between her husband and Teresa. There are accusations on both sides.

An older man/younger woman affair seems like a cliché, but not the way Mand has written it. That it was written by someone so young—I recon Mand is in her 20s—and so perceptive of how people act, react, and deal with relationships and mess in their lives, is one of the many things that is impressive about this play. Mand has a keen facility with language. In these two women she knows how one (Marion) can corner and hurt the other (Teresa) with piercing words, while Teresa tries to hold up and hold on, not to show too much quivering emotion, and finally fights back in her own way and is just as effective.

I find it interesting that Marion goes after Teresa and not her husband as her focus of her anger for her husband’s infidelity. Marion has created a life she thinks her family wants. The hidden reality is that it’s not. Marion’s marriage is in tatters. We might think she is not close to her son, but Mand gives us a hint in her dialogue that Marion knows her kid better than one gives her credit for. And the bombshell at the end shows the extent of her wrath. The balance shifts subtly here keeping the audience shifting back and forth between the two woman.

I am intrigued by Marion’s clothes. Designer Kelly Wolf has her dressed in a smart, stylish, perhaps a touch severe, suit, (slim skirt and jacket) with a form-fitting white blouse. The front of the blouse is tucked into the waistband of the skirt. The back of the blouse is not. On first impression Marion’s appearance looks ordered, organized, fitted, but hidden at the back (and only visible when she takes off the jacket) is that back flap of the blouse is not tucked it. It’s out and hanging there. Perhaps representative of Marion’s life? Am I looking too hard? Fine. I like that Mand and her creative team make me curious and question.

Director Kelly Thornton establishes the delicate dynamic between the two women. She has them circle and manoeuvre around the small classroom set. They are wary. Marion in her dangerous, high-heeled knee-high boots, Teresa demure in her slim dress and low shoes.

As Teresa, Christine Horne greets Marion with a gracious coolness. Marion is late and has no appointment. Christine wants to leave. She also knows that she is having an affair with Marion’s husband. That subtlety is obvious in this beautifully modulated, paced, nuanced performance. Horne hides Teresa’s anxiety with a smile and a forced brightness that gives way to her barely holding on to her emotions. It’s a terrific performance.

Equally fine is Susan Coyne as Marion. There of course is an edge to Marion from the get go. She holds all the cards and the evidence, but Coyne does not bulldoze into the scene. We can assume she is just an overbearing mother, accomplished in the corporate world and used to getting straight answers. And definitely Marion doesn’t strike me as a person who takes kindly to being criticized and certainly not about her son. But when we realize the reason for her ire the performance becomes even more honed. Marion is hurting, wounded, alone and lost. The way to combat that is to fight the person she thinks is the cause.

Between the Sheets is being given a terrific production of a stunning new play from gifted playwright. I can hardly wait for Jordi Mand’s next play. And I hope it’s soon.

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