by Lynn on January 27, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

The Cast
Photo: Alejandro Santiago


At the Berkeley Street Theatre, Downstairs, Toronto, Ont.

Written and directed by Jordan Tannahill

Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

Original Vocal Composition by Philip Nozuka with the ensemble.

Movement created by the performers: Robert Abubo

Danielle Baskerville

Jennifer Dahl

Philip Nozuka

Liz Peterson

Declarations is an exquisite, complex, moving,  layered,  poetic,  theatrical piece about a son’s love for his Mother,  grief, belief, joy and life.

The Story and Performance. Two years ago Jordan Tannahill, theatre wunderkind, learned that his mother had cancer and had less than two years to live. He got on a plane to fly home to see her and on that six hour journey he wrote Declarations “in a single fevered sitting,” as he notes in his deeply personal program note.

The piece is composed of declarations in the form of fragments of thoughts, shards of memories and bunches of recollections of himself, his mother, their lives both together and separate. The lines seem mostly to be stream of consciousness, random, disjointed and yet so telling about how a life is formed, lived, clutched when it looks like it might come to an end and held dear. How many declarations would I make is a question I thought about through the piece.

“Composed” seems an aped word since Tannahill describes the text of  Declarations as a “score.” And while the cast of five (lead by the incomparable Liz Peterson) speaks the dense text they have the aid of a teleprompter. (I must confess I wondered that age old question—“How did you remember all those words since the lines don’t seem to be connected.” Tannahill’s program note offers the information.) The accomplishment of speaking those lines with nuance, variation, subtlety and verve is no less impressive because the cast can read the words on the teleprompter.

Peterson is the first to appear on the simple square of white that forms the playing area. She is agile, graceful, playful and speaks the text beautifully. Then there are the gestures. Each line is accompanied by movement and hand/arm gestures to accentuate the line. The gestures are improvised, which makes the accomplishment of this piece all the more astonishing.

Peterson speaks a large part of Declarations but is eventually joined by the others. Philip Nozuka sings as part of his performance. Jennifer Dahl, a statuesque, more serious presence offers a counterpoint to Peterson. Danielle Baskerville is somewhere between the two women in her sensibilities, quieter, shy perhaps. Robert Abubo is more acrobatic in his portion.

The company repeats lines with their gestures and then just does the gestures leaving it to the audience to ‘fill in’ the lines. I like that impish bit of business that Tannahill and his cast create. There is a section said in unison with an intricate hand clapping accompaniment that gets quicker and quicker without loosing any of the clarity that gets one breathing hard to keep up. It’s clear that Tannahill has both a firm yet supple hand on the direction of the piece. There is a sense of ebb and flow, as there is in life.

In one of the most poignant moments, in a work full of such moments, Tannahill describes how he left his mother’s house to do something but forgot his cell phone. She came after him with the phone, gave it to him, kissed him on the cheek and went back to the house.  The details of this section are all the more astonishing when you hear the full description of the section. Tannahill makes these declarations to “feverishly” hold on to his mother’s life in the face of her cancer, she in turn goes about her business simply being his caring mother as a matter of course, not hampered by her disease and how it’s affecting her.

Comment. Tannahill makes a thousand declarations in this 70 minute work. Some are repeated but isn’t life about repetition? Declarations is a challenging work but, as most things, it must be met at least half way. Tannahill puts us in his conflicted emotional world and at times keeps us at a distance. Ebb and flow. Like life.

Produced by Canadian Stage Company

Opened: Jan. 25, 2018.

Closes: Feb. 11, 2018.

Running Time: 70 minutes.


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