Review: The Way Back to Thursday

by Lynn on February 6, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

The Way Back to Thursday

At Theatre Passe Muraille. Written (composed) by Rob Kempson. Directed by Briana Brown. Set and Lighting by Beth Kates. Sound by Emily Porter. Orchestrations and musical direction by Scott Christian. Starring: Rob Kempson and Astrid Van Wieren.

Produced by Theatre Passe Muraille. Plays until Feb. 8.

The Way Back to Thursday is a song cycle about love in many guises. A young man named Cameron begins by singing of a love affair that has ended. The man he was in love with no longer loves him. Cameron then sings of the unconditional love of his grandmother. They would watch classical movies together on Thursdays. Which lead to other songs about Cameron coming out to his parents but not necessarily to his grandmother; of moving to Vancouver to live in place that would be more welcoming to him than ‘home’; of searching for a lasting love; of remembering the fierce love of his grandmother; and going home to try and find that tight love and to try and find his way back to Thursday, when he and his grandmother watched classic movies together.

Cameron’s songs are interspersed with his grandmother’s songs and deal with her faith and love for him; how she had a secret (that she passed herself off as a movie star in her earlier years but really wasn’t); she sings about the life she had lead and how her life was closing down; her last days would be in a nursing home; and how she missed Cameron, whom she hadn’t heard from in too long a time.

The song cycle in this case is a way to explore the bond of love between a grandson and his grandmother and then the bond, the connection Cameron develops when he goes into the world. Kempson deals with those milestones that would change a young man’s world; having to leave he safe cocoon of is grandmother’s embrace to face other kinds of life-changing embraces; Cameron faces many emotional and moral dilemma and he handles them well.

Some of the situations Kempson writes and sings about have the blush of cliché. But Mr. Kempson is a young artist, feeling, exploring and learning his way in the art form. We cut him slack for that.

Many aspects of the journey-story deserve development or re-thinking in order for there to be more of a connection to the grandmother. We have only the first song that says that the man he loved doesn’t love him in the same way and the relationship ended. That deserves exploration or cutting since we never really hear of that relationship again. The grandmother sings of her secret but we never hear that Cameron believed his grandmother was a former movie star. Surely there should be a connection there. Cameron sings of coming out to his parents who were shocked. He doesn’t tell his grandmother yet she is his closest relative. That lapse seems odd. Did she know? They were so in tuned to each other. A question to be explored. The ending is terribly poignant. Does his coming back twig something in her memory? Does he stay the course even though his ‘old’ grandmother is not there fully for him?

Much has gone in to making this simple show more stylish and grand than the story needs. I find that Briana Brown’s direction is a lot of unnecessary movement for movement’s sake. Move only when it serves the song or the moment, not for the sake of moving.

Beth Kates’ set of multi-levels and a huge curtain back drop is too much. Less would have been better. For some reason projections come up subtly on the large expanse of curtains. Unnecessary and confusing. Are the projections of his grandmother in her younger days? It’s not clear. And it’s not needed.

The musical accompaniment is provided by Scott Christian  on piano, (a gifted musician and composer in his own right) and Samuel Bisson on cello. I love the cello. I just wondered why it was necessary here. And as talented as Scott Christian is, a softer peddle and playing would not have drowned out the singers as often as it does.

As Cameron, Rob Kempson as an endearing awkwardness; a strong voice and a sense of resolve. As Grandma, Astrid Van Wieren is both feisty and slowly dependent. She imbued spirit in her singing and acting.

The Way Back to Thursday is a serious, poignant, bitter-sweet work. I look forward to his next project, or an expansion and development of this one. Rob Kempson is a young artist who is worth your time.

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