Review: HOW WE ARE

by Lynn on October 12, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At 259 Palmerston Ave, Second Floor, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Polly Phokeev
Co-developed and directed by Mikaela Davies
Cast: Sochi Fried
Virgilia Griffith

A compelling play by Polly Phokeev of sexual politics, mixed-messages and raw emotions well-directed by Mikaela Davies.

This is a site-specific production that takes place in the second floor of a duplex on Palmerston Ave, below College Street. We are invited to take our shoes off and go into a dimly- lighted room at the end of the hall. There is seating along three walls for the audience. Along the other wall is a bed that looks like someone is sleeping under the covers.

The play starts when the stage manager turns off a light by the door and closes the door. An illuminated clock at the head of the bed says it’s close to 6:00 am. There is the easy moan of someone rousing out of a deep, satisfying sleep. The covers rustle. A woman wakes and rummages around in the clothes on the floor for something to wear. She goes out the door and pads down the hallway. This is Jess. Then there is more rustling of sheets and we realize there was someone else in the bed with Jess. When Jess returns to the room with a glass of water for the person in the bed, the lights are turned on and we see that Jess spent the night with Cassandra. They are very close friends; talk to each other every day; occasionally walk hand in hand because Cassandra just takes Jess’s hand.

When Cassandra is fully awake Jess’s behaviour suggests she wants to continue what they obviously did in bed during the night. The thing is Cassandra can’t remember a thing about the night because she blacked out because of all the drinking she did in a bar the night before. Jess on the other hand remembers everything clearly. As soon as Cassandra realizes she’s naked in bed, she is confused about Jess’s intentions. Jess confesses that she loves Cassandra and can’t believe the feelings are not returned in the same sexual way. Cassandra does love Jess but as a friend, not a lover. As Jess, Sochi Fried has a clear-eyed bead on how Jess loves Cassandra. Fried is sensual, seductive and alluring. She comes on to Cassandra but is rebuffed. As Cassandra, Virgilia Griffith is a touch tentative in her performance initially, but then gets her stride as Jess and Cassandra dissect their feelings about the situation and reveal a confusion of intention for the other.

Mikaela Davies is a young director who is not afraid of such a challenging play as How We Are. She establishes the relationships of the two women in this small space with thought, imagination and perception. She knows how to use space to create intimacy and estrangement. She knows how to take her time in establishing the quiet bliss of the deep sleep of these two women in bed with each other, and how they take their time in waking up from such bliss.

A slight quibble is that we aren’t quite sure when the performance is over, until the stage manager comes and opens the door and turns on a small light. Even this isn’t clear in telling us this is over. Perhaps a brighter light and a silent indication from the stage manager that we can leave might be an option.

Polly Phokeev has written an intriguing play about relationships, love, friendship and the confusion between one and the other. Jess is in love with Cassandra but Cassandra denies the same feelings. Both detail the reasons for the confusion. The audience is not just a fly on the wall watching this play, they are participants in a way, analysing the information and then deciding which woman is closer to the truth. Phokeev has written two well-developed characters, the games they play and the reasons they play them. Fine work from all of them, leaving you thinking about the play long after the play is finished.

Produced by Davies and Phokeev Productions.

Opened: Oct. 11, 2016.
Closes: Oct. 15, 2016.
Performances : daily at 7:30 pm and 8:30 pm
Running Time: 1 hour approx.

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