by Lynn on November 13, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Campbell House, Queen and University, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Alan Bennett
Directed by John Shooter
Designed by Rachel Forbes
Lighting by Siobhán Sleath
Sound by Aaron Bernstein
Starring: Alex Dallas
Jason Gray
Naomi Wright

A fastidiously directed, beautifully acted evening of three monologues by Alan Bennett.

The Stories: British playwright, Alan Bennett wrote these three monologues (along with several others) for television. They work a treat for the theatre.

In The Outside Dog Marjory is obsessive-compulsive about cleaning. She washes, polishes, dusts, vacuums and shampoos every surface in her house it seems. She finds two dog hairs on the carpet and is compelled to wash the whole thing. She resents that dog. She’s trained her husband to take off his shoes when coming into the house. He walks the dog. She resents her mother-in-law’s visits. Marjory would rather be left alone. Gradually, slowly details are revealed about her marriage, her husband’s activities and events in the neighbourhood. Marjory’s ordered world is turned upside down. She finds refuge in her cleaning.

In Playing Sandwiches Wilfred is a conscientious maintenance man who works in the local park. We meet him raking leaves. He’s had various jobs. He’s helpful to the locals. But he has a deep, dark secret which is slowly revealed.

Finally, in A Lady of Letters Irene is the local busy-body. She sits at her front window checking on the comings and going of her neighbours, none of whom she seems to like. She is sure that the couple living opposite her are mistreating their young child. She is sure the man who is working in the park is up to no good. She write letters of concern and complaint and is miffed if she doesn’t get a reply, and chuffed if she does. The complaining gets out of hand and Irene is dealt with severely.

The Production. Director John Shooter is a detailed, fastidious director, as was easily seen with his production last year of Abigail’s Party. With Talking Heads he has set all three monologues in different rooms of the historic Campbell House.

The Outside Dog takes place in the dining room. Marjory’s collection of cleaning equipment is in a carry-all on the table. She wears rubber gloves. She sprays pledge on the wood of the hutch in a corner and runs a cloth over each shelf and ledge. She takes down a vase with a wide mouth and drags the Pledged cloth around the inside and outside and puts it back. Then she takes down a food dish with a lid and vigorously wipes the inside and outside of the dish and the top. My eye-brows knit at that bit of direction—surely you don’t wipe the inside of a food dish with a cloth drenched in Pledge?

While Marjory is wiping, dusting and vigorously cleaning, she is talking, telling us her story. As Marjory, Naomi Wright is matter of fact, perhaps annoyed not only at the dirt, but at the interruptions in her routine—her meddling mother-in-law; her sloppy husband, that damned dog. Wright is muscular in her cleaning. As the details of what is going on in her life and her husband’s are slowly revealed, Marjory is unsettled, less confident and unsure, until the only reliable thing she has is to go back to cleaning.

Playing Sandwiches takes place in the downstairs kitchen of Campbell House. There is a lattice-work structure that suggests the park. Birds sing. The floor is strewn with leaves. Wilfred, as played by Jason Gray wears a park’s maintenance uniform. He is neatly trimmed, jolly at the beginning of his story and accommodating. He sweeps the leaves until every last one is in a pile. The darkness of his story is unsettling. He has an obsession too, (as do all three speakers in these monologues), and it will get the better of him and leave him shattered.

A Lady of Letters takes place in the upstairs ballroom of Campbell House. Irene sits in her easy chair, looking out the window, commenting on who and what she sees. As Irene, Alex Dallas has a permanent grimace, as if she’s sniffing something bad. Her body language is tight. Everything annoys her. She reads letters she’s sent to many and various people and organizations complaining about bad service, rude treatment, suspicious people. I note that even the stamps on her letters are British postage. As I said, director John Shooter is meticulous about detail. While Dallas’s voice is quiet and steady, she floats barbs dripping in sarcasm and contempt. This is one unhappy lady until that too changes in the most unlikely way.

Comment. Alan Bennett is a wonderful writer who creates characters who know about loneliness, regret, isolation, anger and loosing one’s grip. He reveals information slowly, leisurely and then lets the zingers of the story catch us unawares. John Shooter and his impressive cast also show the wounded humanity of these people. I look forward to more from Mr. Shooter and his company.

Precisely Peter Productions.

First performance: Nov. 7, 2014
Closes: Nov. 23, 2014
Cast: 3; 1 man, 2 women
Running Time: 2 hours.


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