by Lynn on April 21, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Young People’s Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Adapted by Mark Cassidy from the novel by Charlotte Gingras
Translated by Susan Ouriou
Directed by Mark Cassidy
Set and Lighting by Beth Kates
Costumes by Laura Gardner
Sound by Nicholas Murray
Movement by Viv Moore
Starring: Heather Marie Annis
Hilary Carroll
Mary Ellen MacLean
Ginette Mohr
Christopher Sawchyn

A simple story made complicated and frustrating with over direction and over design.

The Story. Emily’s family has to downsize. They are moving from a house to an apartment. The family’s beloved grand piano has to be sold. Emily’s mother is devastated. The piano had been in her family for years. She used to play it and so this news throws her into a funk and then into a serious depression. Her husband is no help. He always works late. It turns out he’s having an affair, which depresses Emily’s mother further.

Emily also has two married sisters. They rarely come around to visit because they have lives and infant babies to take care of. In fact they use Emily as a babysitter and take advantage of her often while they attend to more important things than their kids. In one case the sister is training for a marathon, so she has no time to tend her baby or visit and support her sad mother.
While Emily is only nine year’s old, she is wise enough to know that her mother needs help. Emily feels that re-uniting her mother with her piano would help her recover. So Emily goes on a mission to find her mother’s piano. She goes to various piano tuners enquiring if they worked on her mother’s piano. One remembers the instrument. The piano tuner knows where it is and connects Emily with the owner of the piano. Things move on from there.

The Production. Beth Kates has done a masterful job of designing a grand piano that can be disassembled into various parts that in turn will be used for props and set pieces during the production. The strings are removed and stretched across the stage. The harp shape component inside the piano will be used as moveable door wells in various locations. Two large moveable winding staircases represent the homes of the two sisters. The staircases are moved, turned, pushed together, separated, and are worked so frequently that all that movement soon wears thin.

Even Laura Gardner’s costumes are created on a piano motif. Part of a leg of a pair of black pants are a different colour than the rest of the ensemble. That part of the pant leg is a shimmery amber reminiscent of the polished wood of a piano. Other costumes have part that are the same amber colour while the rest might be black, perhaps reminiscent of the black and white keys. Everybody but Emily has these oddly designed costumes. Emily is dressed like a normal nine-year-old kid, perhaps because she is normal and separate from her sad mother, her cheating and absent father, and her selfish sisters who are terrible mothers.

The acting ranges from cartoon whining of the two sisters played by fright-wigged Ginette Mohr and Mary Ellen MacLean. Heather Marie Annis is Emily’s fragile minded, sad mother until she is re-united with her piano. Christopher Sawchyn plays the wayward, distant father with a touch of guilty embarrassment that the father didn’t do better by his family. He is not a total rotter. As Emily, Hilary Carroll is precocious, thoughtful, sensitive and resourceful. She is everything you want a kid to be.

But I find that so much thought went into the design that is symbolic of the piano, with an extended scene at the beginning taking the piano apart, and the endless moving of set pieces around, that the actual storytelling gets lost. I wonder how long the show would be if director Mark Cassidy just told the story simply without the endless maneuvering of the two spiral staircases, or the appearing and disappearing of the harp-like structures from the piano that acts as door wells. I found myself saying, “Enough already. Just tell the story.” What we have here is a very simple story, told with too much stage business.

Comment. I am intrigued about the book that the play is based on. I want to read that to find out what writer Charlotte Gingras really said about our heroine.

Presented by Young People’s Theatre.

Run: April 13-May 2, 2015
Cast: 5; 1 man, 4 women
Running Time: 70 minutes

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