Review: TALKING HEADS: The Hand of God, A Chip in the Sugar, Bed Among the Lentils

by Lynn on November 7, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

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

Written by Alan Bennett
Directed by John Shooter
Set Designed by Rachel Forbes
Lighting by Siobhán Sleath
Sound by Evan Jerred
Cast: Deb Filler
Fiona Reid
Richard Sheridan Willis

Three beautifully written monologues by Alan Bennett, given exquisite productions because of director John Shooter’s meticulous direction of his wonderful casts.

By way of Introduction: Last year producer/director John Shooter presented three monologues by Alan Bennett who wrote a series of them called Talking Heads. This year Shooter has chosen three more monologues from the Talking Heads list and both programs play in repertory until November 22. Bennett is a master of writing about people living quietly desperate lives. They aren’t depressing. They are compelling, funny, wounded and soldier on.

The Stories: In this group we have The Hand of God, A Chip in the Sugar, and Bed Among the Lentils.

In The Hand of God Celia is an antiques dealer who befriends old people in the hopes of getting their antiques when they pop off. Celia looks down on other folks purporting to sell antiques who also have to sell food such as chutney among the antique pieces to make a living. Celia is smartly dressed, fussy about her antiques and dismissive of most people she comes in contact with.

Then she gets a box from an old lady who has died. Celia gives it a quick look and as she thought, it doesn’t have anything really of value, although a customer has taken a fancy to a framed picture of a finger (!). She sells it for what she thinks is a fair price. Then matters take a turn.

A Chip in the Sugar is about Graham, an adult man still living with his mother as her carer. He has a bit of a stutter. He’s disheveled. His cardigan is buttoned wrong with one side longer than the other. A shirt tail hangs down below the sweater. He enjoys telling us of his mother’s idiosyncrasies, but he is a loving, attentive son. Then a former friend of his ‘Mam’ from about 50 years ago comes into her life again and Graham is unsettled by it all. The friend makes the moves on his mother and Graham feels he will be shunted out. He takes matters in hand

Finally there is Susan in Bed Among the Lentils. She’s a vicar’s wife living a life of ordinary sameness, who wonders about Jesus and sex among other things. She never got the hang of flower arranging, making English cakes or how to organize a fete—skills that are vital for a vicar’s wife. She really doesn’t know why she has to go to every church service that her husband Geoffrey holds, after all a lawyer’s wife doesn’t go to court all the time. She never quite brought that up with her husband, but she did attend Church, almost faithfully. Susan also has a secret. We slowly find out what it is.

The Production. Each monologue takes place in a different room in the historic Campbell House. The historic, well-kept aspect of Campbell House lends itself very well to the three stories in its own way.

John Shooter directs and his work is meticulous. From the look of each setting; even to having the music the character would listen to played during the scene changes, Shooter’s eye is detailed, smart and thoughtful.

For The Hand of God one of the rooms in Campbell House is appointed as if it’s a well kept, polished, and dusted antiques shop. An antique chair rests on a gleaming wood table; , an old book is displayed on a chair; there are silver candle sticks on another gleaming table. It’s all shining and spotless.

As Celia, Deb Filler is decked out in a blazer and scarf over which is a necklace, a brooch and on her fingers, many rings. When she talks she slightly adjusts the lapels of her blazer, or touches the scarf for effect and as a fussy detail. . It’s a beautiful bit of business to illustrate that the woman is fastidious about herself and her antiques.

As Celia, Deb Filler’s deliver is crisp with a hint of sarcasm. She endures. She appreciates fine antiques, but it’s galling having to deal with ‘amateurs’ who think they know better than she does. Gorgeous opera (Callas?) plays during the set changes. Perfect.

In A Chip in the Sugar Richard Sheridan Willis, as Graham, is disheveled with wild hair and his sweater is button up wrong. That just speaks volumes. Willis portrays a man devoted to his mother and proud of it. He’s almost prissy when talking about his average day with his “Mam.’ He gets joy from her and their special devotion. The suitor poses a threat and then Graham becomes wary. He’s protective of her but concerned for his place in her life, should he be displaced by this ‘suitor’. The action takes place in what looks like Graham’s bedroom. He’s sorting clean socks and putting them away. There is a single bed in the room. It’s not a double bed, but a single representing a constricted, confined life, I thought that was so telling of his life. The music here is Judy Garland. Perfect.

In Bed Among the Lentils Fiona Reid plays Susan. She is in a kind of refectory—simple table and chair, sitting, with a far away look, almost wistful. She holds a kind of glass. It doesn’t look like it’s a liquor glass and she doesn’t drink from it.

Reid has that languid delivery in that smoky voice of hers that lulls us along until there is the zinger of a comment at the end of the thought. Ms Reid is a master comedian and heartbreaking at the same time. Susan is another Alan Bennett character living a life of quiet isolation, aware of her small world, wanting more, but enduring with what she has. The music here are hymns sung by a choir. Perfect.

Wonderful work from all of them.
Produced by Precisely Peter Productions:

Opened: Nov. 3, and 4 for each series.
Closes: Nov. 22, 2015.
Running Time: 90 minutes approx.


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