Review: DONORS

by Lynn on November 14, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer


 At Hub 14, 14   Markham Street. Written and directed by Brandon Crone. Set by Claire Hill. Starring:  Jakob Ehman, Thomas Gough and Karen Slater.

Produced by safeword. Donors plays at Hub 14, 14   Markham Street until November 17.

In his play Donors Brandon Crone explores the world of sperm donors, or rather one in particular. Gray is his name. He’s a writer eking out a living, single, perhaps mid-fifties. He’s visited one day by Jonathan, a quiet eighteen-year-old who sought him out because Gray is his father. This is the first time they have met. Jonathan was encouraged by his two mothers to seek out the man who is responsible for his life. Years before Gray was a sperm donor. Jonathan is the result. He also has a secret about it.

Their meeting is awkward at first but settles into a comfortable situation with Gray being curious about this son he never knew he had. Slowly we learn that Jonathan is happy, adjusted and well mannered. He wants nothing from Gray but was curious about him. Gray is lonely, perhaps needing affection—he always asks Jonathan for a hug when they part. Gray would like to continue the relationship of being a father to this young man.

Gray is also visited another time by John, about the same age as Jonathan, perhaps a bit older. John is full of attitude, arrogant, a chip on his shoulder. Calling John a thug wouldn’t be too far off the mark. He too has sought out Gray because Gray is also his father. John wants to meet the man who helped bring him into his terrible, hard life. And being a thug he wants Gray to pay. Gray doesn’t ask this kid for a hug at the end of their meetings. Matters take a decidedly dark turn in Gray’s dealings with John.

Brandon Crone also directs this production. He has envisioned the playing area as being in the middle of a nest. In Claire Hill’s design the walls are slatted with strips of twigs and branches that make the whole space seem like a nest. A pile of books etc. sits in the middle of a clump of twigs as well, stage right. When Gray meets Jonathan or John they each sit in a chair in the middle of the space facing each other. I’m not sure the analogy of a nest quiet works for this play, but it is an interesting idea, and Hill’s execution is dandy.

A Gray, Thomas Gough is soft-spoken, courtly even, thoughtful and fastidious except for the rip in his sweater under his arm. It’s obvious Gray doesn’t have much money and that rip in the sweater is a nice touch. In the dual roles of Jonathan and John, Jakob Ehman does a fine job of differentiating the two characters. Jonathan is quiet and respectful. He sits straight in his chair. As John he slouches, his legs are spread, combative. The costumes are different for both boys, and Ehman’s performance is very effective in showing how different they are.

Each scene is set apart by Karen Slater, a musician playing the flute which I think is a nice touch. As the play progresses with different scene breaks, even the musician seems to have a life of her own. At first Slater plays in a red gown, as if giving a performance of her own. Later she rehearses chords dressed in casual jeans, sitting at the side of the playing area. Later still the music goes in a different direction again. Slater is listed as Alice in the program. It’s a mystery who she is until the end. Interesting.

The press release describes Donors  as a “….thrilling, suspenseful drama/horror” which I think is wishful thinking at this point. But with another pass at re-writing, investigating  the subject further and filling in the holes in the story and tying up loose ends, it just might develop into the play Crone attempted to write.

The whole matter of confidentiality between donor and receiver is not addressed and it has to be. It’s like the elephant in the room. How did these children get Gray’s address without him knowing about it or giving his permission? Why did he donate his sperm years before? Was it for money? To procreate? We should know that detail and why he didn’t want to meet the resultant children if any. When John was extorting money from Gray and threatening him, why didn’t he call the police? Another elephant in the room. When Gray was filling out the forms to donate his sperm, he lied about a question, but it’s not quite explained why. It has to be. How did Jonathan and Alice meet as they do at the end of the play? We should know. As I say, questions, questions. Still an interesting idea for a play.

I was glad to discover safeword, an indie theatre company “focused on developing and producing original Canadian works of theatre that explore controversial and socially relevant subject matter through raw, high-octane performance.”

I can appreciate the mandate, but am not quite sure what ‘raw, high-octane performance’ means. This production of Donors seems pretty low-key and yet has moments of quiet tension. I look forward to their next show.

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