by Lynn on May 1, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

The Playwright Project- Caryl Churchill

This year the Playwright Project focuses on British titan Caryl Churchill

From April 23 to May 4, four spunky independent theatre companies will present a play each which gives a taste of Churchill’s range as a playwright. They are: A Number produced by Cart/Horse Theatre. Vinegar Tom produced by Neoteny Theatre, Drunk Enough To Say I Love You produced by Circle Snake Productions, and Three More Sleepless Nights produced by Bad Joe.

Earlier in the week I reviewed: A Number and Vinegar Tom. I finish up the festival with Three More Sleepless Nights produced by a theatre company with a provocative name, Bad Joe, and Drunk Enough To Say I Love You, produced by Circle Snake Productions. Both plays continue to show the scope and range of Churchill’s writing and intellectual abilities. In these two cases: Three More Sleepless Nights and Drunk Enough to Say I Love You the differences between them are startling and gut twisting.

Three More Sleepless Nights

Produced by Bad Joe. Directed by Sarah Kitz. Designed by Joanne Yu. Lighting by Kaileigh Krysztofiak. Starring: Diana Bentley, Chala Hunter, Jeff Margolis, Ryan Rogerson.

Caryl Churchill wrote this in 1980. Sarah Kitz, the play’s gifted, fearless director says in her program note that the play is “a political and feminist play.” The politics of marriage; the importance of a good job and money for a woman to have independence from a man.

Margaret is married to Frank. She waits night after night for him to come home, usually from seeing his mistress. When he comes home this night she’s already in bed, ready for him. They both immediately begin to rail at each other; accusations fly first one in response to the other, then both simultaneously. It’s interesting to try and listen to both conversations. It’s also interesting to realize that while the couple is raging at each other at the same time, they seem to be hearing what the other is saying and replying to it. She is bitter because he slinks off to the other woman. He accuses her of fancying his friend, Pete. She dredges up things that happened years before that weren’t resolved. The arguments repeat. The fury is at level ten. But she loves him. And they repeat. Blackout.

Pete and Dawn are in bed, both on their backs. They seem peaceful, communicating in a way with sighs, soft grunts but initially not words. He tells her the details of the film Alien. She gets out of bed and makes a call that is not picked. Pete doesn’t ask who she’s calling. She goes back to bed. He continues with the film description. She makes another call. No answer. Dawn is crushed with disappointment. She says sometimes she thinks she’s dead. Pete says nothing. He brings food from the kitchen that he eats but she does not. He is absorbed in his world, oblivious to hers. Something happens to Dawn in bed. Pete is stunned but doesn’t offer comfort. Blackout.

Margaret and Pete are in bed, quietly talking. She is much calmer with Pete than with Frank. Margaret and Frank split up and she went to live with Pete. They are loving; touch often and talk to each other. Cracks in the relationship appear. She is uncertain. He tries to calm her. She is needy. He describes the film Apocalypse Now.

In Sarah Kitz’s gripping production a bed, where all the sleepless nights take place, is shifted in its position on the stage, to represent another sleepless night in another house. Very effective and clear.

She has staged and directed Diana Bentley as Margaret and Ryan Rogerson as Frank, to be fearless and raging. They are so close, facing each other, you think they might come to blows. I wonder why they don’t slug each other, but then that says more about me than the characters. It puts the audience on the alert. Something violent could happen. As angry as the scenes are with Margaret and Frank, the scenes with Dawn and Pete are as docile, but with a twinge of heart-ache on her part, and avoidance on his.

The scene with Margaret and Pete suggest they have found their mate at last, but subtly we see that’s not true. Kitz stages this with the couple touching, clinging, urging. The language again repeats.

The acting is terrific. As Margaret, Diana Bentley lashes out from a place of loneliness, disappointment and isolation. As Frank, Ryan Rogerson clashes with her equally from a place of embarrassment and frustration. The situation grinds them both down. As Pete, Jeff Margolis is breezy and self-contained in his world with Dawn. While Chala Hunter as Dawn is in a depressed state that he is not concerned about.

Churchill has dissected two marriages that have fallen apart with cold-eyed perception. The lack of communication; the anger that bashes; the replies that avoid and blame. The dialogue repeats; the inflections are different. The dialogue repeats. Then Churchill puts Margaret and Pete’s relationship under her microscope and illuminates the cracks there with subtlety, neediness, and repetition again. Brilliant.

Drunk Enough To Say I Love You

Produced by Circlesnake Productions. Directed by Alec Toller. Starring: Claire Armstrong and Caitlin Driscoll.

The play is about the political domination of the United States in world politics and how Britain has been subservient and eager to align itself with the United States. It is also a love-affair between the two characters in the play. Drunk Enough To Say I Love You was produced at the Royal Court in London in 2006 starring two male actors who played Sam (suggesting ‘Uncle Sam’ and Jack (suggesting Union Jack). For our purposes, two gifted actresses play the characters only now Jack has been changed to Guy. He’s still British. Sam is still the overbearing American.

The dialogue is composed totally of fragmented sentences sometimes including the verb, sometimes stopping just short of it. The person spoken to continues the thought. Sam is forceful, demanding, commanding, manipulative, ruthless, cold-hearted and conscience free. The characters are named for men but played by women. What pronouns do I use? I’ll be true to the actresses and use the feminine—the result is still frightening and gut twisting.

Guy says she took a look at Sam and came under her spell immediately. Sam demands that Guy leave her family and come and follow her as she globe trots manipulating various political situations in the world. They both blithely talk of torture, terrorist attacks they have arranged, manoeuvred soldiers, mercenaries, money, and armies to attack villages etc. to change the balance of power. They talk of slaughter as off-handedly as if they were swapping recipes. It’s terrifying.

As the lines wiz through the air the situations they are controlling prove sexually intoxicating. They fondle, caress, kiss, stroke and make love to each other. The juxtaposition is intellectually dazzling and so typical of Churchill.

The dialogue of half-sentences is certainly challenging, but director Alec Toller has found clarity in his direction of his two actresses. The staging is definitely a ‘bully’ controlling her ‘weaker’ friend. Finding weakness and making it work to ones advantage is all there, even with the conviction of love. As Sam, Claire Armstrong is formidable. The body language is confident; even the clunk of her boot on the floor makes a statement of commanding the situation. Armstrong is consistently positioned to pin Guy (Caitlin Driscoll) and keep her on the offensive. She strokes Driscoll’s hair, neck and arms. How can the character not succumb? As Guy, Driscoll gets into the cold-blooded mood set by Sam. They can control the world with a word here, a suggestion there. Who’s going to stop them. But Driscoll is the one to show a softer side to Guy and therefore act as a contrast to the ballsier Sam. Both actress work in perfect tandem. It’s a terrific production of a terrifying, unsettling play.

With these four plays Playwright’s Project has afforded us a glimpse into the dextrous brilliance of Caryl Churchill. This is some of the most provocative, beautifully realized theatre in the city.

Playwright Project
From April 23 to May 4
At the Downstage
Downstairs from the Magic Oven Restaurant
798 Danforth Ave.

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