by Lynn on May 20, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Sandbox, 301 Adelaide St. W., Toronto, Ont.

Written by Linda McLean
Directed by Paul Lampert
Set by Michael Gianfrancesco
Costumes by Ming Wong
Lighting by Bonnie Beecher
Sound by Christopher Stanton
Projections by Cameron Davis
Cast: Niki Landau
Richard Lee
Jeff Lillico
David Schurmann
Edmund Stapleton
Ausar Stewart

A chilling play that creeps up on you as the clues rack up, in a stylish, artful production.

The Story
. A childhood even haunts the two adults involved. In five short scenes May has various encounters-with her husband, with another man, with her father, her brother and finally a social worker in which each build slowly to indicate May’s background which is by way of explanation of the kind of person she is and how she got to where she is now.

The Production. Director Paul Lambert has fashioned this production as part art instillation, part immersive theatre production. The ‘theatre’ space at Artspace has been sectioned into five areas with a character who will be interacting with May already inhabiting each area. We are invited to wander around the space and look at each section as if we are in an art instillation.

As we walk into the space, we walk by an old man in pajamas, sitting in a chair, hooked up to tubes etc. This is a hospital room. He’s asleep and has a frowned look. He does not look like a happy camper. In another area (an enclosed room) a young man paces slowly back and forth, he is casually dressed. In another a young man sits hunched over on a park bench. He is roughly dressed. On another, also an enclosed space but not as confined as the young man, a gentleman sits at a stylish table, reading his newspaper. Behind him is a projection of a white shelf of books. He is very stylishly dressed—Yuppie like. The last room I look at is a bedroom with a man in a suit, sitting on the edge of the bed, looking at his cell phone and tapping out a text.

The walls around the whole space are surfaces on which to project scenes or instructions. We are invited to look around the space and turn off our cell phones. There are benches along the edges of the separate ‘rooms’ on which some members of the audience can sit. There are more people than there are spaces so some stand.

When the production begins a snippet of a home movie is projected on the walls with two young children playing being called by an adult. It doesn’t register who these children are or who the adult is. The snippet is short.

May is our central character. We follow her from area to area, watching as she interacts with each man in each space. Of course we act differently with different people and playwright Linda McLean shows that beautifully.

The man reading the paper is May’s husband, Dan (Ausar Stewart). She enters the area, all a twitter. She has seen a wounded bird on their balcony of their high rise apartment. She frets about what to do about it. Call a vet? Take it in and nurse it? Dan looks up from his paper, almost bored with her concern. He tries to allay her concerns that the bird will die because trying to help fails. With every comment from Dan, May, as played by Niki Landau gets a bit more agitated. As agitated as she gets, Dan, as played by the stylish Ausar Stewart, is more and more matter of fact. He hates birds and thinks their balcony is a haven for pigeons to poop. He hates that. More twittering from May. He suggests that perhaps they should move to a house. He is trying to calm her in his way. In this relationship, May appears childish and he appears like the adult trying to talk sense.

A projection on the walls indicate the passage of time. (three months later, 12 months later for example).

Next May is in the hospital room with the man in the chair. He is her father Duncan (At no time are any of these characters referred to by name. Interesting). May is accommodating with her father. He is irascible, irritable and definitely unhappy. He doesn’t want to be at this old age place. But we get the sense from his attitude and treatment of May that that is how he treated her for her whole life. She in turn tries to appease him. In this instance she is not as childish or twittery as she is with her husband. In this sense she is a grown daughter trying to deal with an irritable father and nothing she does is right. We sense this has always been the case.

More time passes as projected on the walls. May is in the hotel room with Roy. They met on the internet and they are there for sex. She is not having an affair with him. It’s more ‘cold-blooded’ than that. She and he want rough sex. At first Roy, as played by the soft-spoken Richard Lee, is tender, gentle and kind. But they get into a situation that starts off mutually but ends dangerously. Richard Lee morphs into a character that makes us wary of what kind of person he is and what secrets May is hiding.

May’s meets Denis, her brother, in a park. The projection (Cameron Davis) of a lush park with trees and grass suggests a quiet, idyllic place. Denis is agitated and angry. May has just told him she is pregnant and he is furious. There are hints that something happened when they were younger that affected their lives and they made a promise to each other that May has broken.

Finally May meets Abel in the last room. She has had the baby who is now two years old. Abel has come to see the baby. May seems anxious in a way that is different with the other men, but the main thrust of her behavior is a woman who is under the man’s influence. As she goes from her husband to her father to Roy in the hotel room to her brother to Abel, she projects a different kind of submissiveness and yet mixes it with an effort for maturity. She is not overtly meek. There is a kind of confidence, but it’s tempered.

. May is the common factor in each encounter. Each encounter connects to the others in establishing May’s character and her story. And with each connection matters get creepier and creepier as to what she is hiding.

Linda McLean has written a crisp, bracing play of mystery that sneaks up on you and spooks you when we piece together what happened years before and how it has affected May and the people around her. Terrific.

Note: It would have been nice if there was a proper program with all the information needed to talk about this wonderful production, rather than going to a user-unfriendly website for the company.

Produced by Theatre Panik

Opened: May 12, 2017.
Saw it: May 14, 2017.
Closes: May 27, 2017.
Cast: 6; 5 men, 1 woman
Running Time: 2 hours.

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