Review: BEA

by Lynn on May 23, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer


At the Factory Theatre Studio, Toronto. Written by Mick Gordon. Directed by Aleksandar Lukač. Set and Lighting by Andy Moro. Costumes by Laura Gardner. Sound by Christopher Stanton. Choreography by Patricia Allison. Starring Bahareh Yaraghi, Deborah Drakeford, Brendan McMurtry-Howlett.

Produced by Actors Repertory Company. Plays until May 26, 2013.

As the audience files into the Factory Theatre Studio space there is a bed on a raised platform in the centre. It is something like a four-poster bed. The audience sits on either side of the platform. A young woman lies in the bed, covered, absolutely still. This is Bea James.

When the play is about to begin the lights lower and rock music blares out.  Bea raises her arms, holds onto bars above the headboard and smartly raises herself to a sitting position. Next she flips the covers off. She raises and bends first one leg and then the other and flips herself out of the bed. She dances wildly around the bed, flipping her long curly hair. She jumps on the bed. She grabs onto one of the rods above the bed and flips from one side to the other. She holds on to a corner rod and twirls out around it. She jumps onto and climbs a ladder in her room. She is so energetic; so focused in her wild movement I figure she is training for the 2014 Olympics.

She is interrupted in this free movement by Ray, the young man who has been engaged by Bea’s mother to be Bea’s caregiver. Mrs. James wanted a woman for the job, but as Ray says they ran out. Ray is very eager and caring although not formerly trained in the job. He has his own baggage to contend with. He refers to himself as “not gay Ray.” He cringes when he is called Raymond—his mother called him that and he hated it. He seems hyper-active and talks a mile-a-minute, often getting distracted by his own conversation that I fear he has ADHD.

Ray and Bea form a strong bond. He is helpful and caring. He is told his duties, giving Bea her meds etc. and how difficult it will be to take care of her. (Considering her lively behaviour this seems odd) She trusts him to help write her mother telling her mother that she wants to die because she won’t get any better.

Over the course of the first hour of this one hour and 45 minute play, Ray and Bea joke, dance, jump on the bed and fly across the stage, swing on the bars of the bed and generally present a confusing picture. How is this person dying? Then finally playwright Mick Gordon shows us the truth about Bea, as she sinks down, onto her bed, helpless.  She has a debilitating disease that renders her immobile, bedridden. It has affected her speech. She often gets fits. The previous one hour is Bea’s ideal; her dream of being able to move quickly and gracefully like any normal young woman. The following 45 minutes is Bea’s reality. She must depend on her mother and caregivers for everything, from giving her medication; to cleaning her up to feeding her.

Mrs. James is a strong, no-nonsense woman who is reluctant to accept Bea’s request to die. She has trouble with Ray. She always seems to come into the room in the most awkward moments—when he is giving Bea some booze, when Bea wants him to try and arouse her because she can’t feel anything.

Playwright Mick Gordon is an accomplished theatre practitioner in England. He has written several plays and essays dealing with Theatre and the mind. With Bea he is attempting to deal with the thorny, heart-aching problem of disability and the right to die by assisted suicide. And he misses.

By his own admission in an essay, when he goes into the theatre he is distracted by questions that come up that the play doesn’t answer quickly enough. The same thing happens in Bea. Showing us a healthy, lively woman, joyful and energetic, bopping around the set for one hour, but with hints that there is some illness, is not conducive to convincing us that she is dying of a debilitating disease. It’s confusing. Only in the last 45 minutes does it become clear, but that is a long, damaging hour before hand. A rule to playwrights—don’t confuse the audience.

And then there is the matter of the deliberate misquote.  In the final minutes of the play, Ray has brought Bea a present; the text of A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams. He has read her the whole play and comes to the last scene, when the fragile-minded Blanche, is led off by a doctor and nurse while Stanley woos his wife Stella back to him. Ray reads the scene, complete with stage directions, getting more and more agitated for some reason (I’ll get to the director shortly). And then he comes to the most famous line in the play and he reads Blanche’s line: “I have always relied on the kindness of strangers.”  It’s wrong. The line is “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Ray refers to the line again and reads it in the same way—the wrong way. One has to ask why Mick Gordon would change a word in a perfect line and render it imperfect; unpoetic; wrong. I was taken out of the play because of that wondering why a playwright would make such a decision. I wonder if the cast asked him why he changed it and could they use the correct word? I wonder if when permission to use the scene from the play was granted by the University of Sewanee, Tennessee, did anyone tell the University trustees of Williams’ work, they were going to change a word of it as well?

Ray has no kind words for Blanche and every consideration for Stanley. Interesting that Ray could be so compassionate to Bea, who is physically debilitated, but no compassion for Blanche who by the end of the play is mentally unhinged because of Stanley.

The saving grace for this disappointing play is the cast. As Bea, Bahareh Yaraghi is vibrant and fearless as she jumps, flits and flips around the stage in her imagined ideal state; and heartbreaking when confined to her bed; shaking; voice distorted. We see what we will lose if she gets her wish to die.

As Mrs. James, Deborah Drakeford makes a journey from brittle but concerned mother, to a woman who loves her daughter enough to let her go. This is a firm, focused, performance of a woman whose guts must be in a knot all the time with worry.

As Ray, Brendan McMurtry-Howlett has charm, is disarming with his ADHD and eagerness to please, but he is not served well by his director Aleksandar Lukač. He has McMurtry-Howlett yelling most of his lines and certainly when reading the scene from A Streetcar Named Desire. And Lukač had several scenes in freeze frame that gave it several false endings. Too fussy by half.

The idea of dramatising the subjects of disability and assisted suicide is interesting and provocative. Unfortunately the play Bea doesn’t do it justice, in spite of a committed cast.

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1 Sasha Lukac June 14, 2013 at 4:27 pm

This review comes straight from the 19th century – at best 1940’s. Please catch up with some modern theater.