by Lynn on March 24, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Streetcar Crowsnest, Carlaw and Dundas Sts., Toronto, Ont.

Written by Hannah Moscovitch

Directed by Christian Barry

Set by Andrew Cull

Costumes by Leesa Hamilton

Lighting by Leigh Ann Vardy

Cast: David Patrick Flemming

Rebecca Parent

Liisa Repo-Martell

A tender, compelling play about love, sex and the desperation for birth control given a wonderful production.

The Story. Sophie is pregnant again. She doesn’t want to be. She can’t be. She loves her husband Johnny. They are passionate, lusty, sensual and enjoy sex, but she is desperate for some way to prevent becoming pregnant without having to give up sex. And she’s desperate to stop this pregnancy somehow.

It’s about 1920 and birth control is primitive and costly (you don’t want to know how much one of those re-usable ‘sheaths” cost). She can’t give up sex with Johnny. They both want it so much. So she is pregnant again. Her previous four pregnancies were hard and long. And the babies were big at birth—one weighed nine pounds, another weighed eleven pounds. She thinks she’s loosing her mind with the worry of it—should she keep the news from Johnny ? And she’s taken to talking to her sister, Alma. Who is dead. What is Sophie to do?

The Production. Director Christian Barry has created a gem of a production. Quiet, joyful, gut-wrenching. Almost before anything—the wonderful cast, Andrew Cull’s simple set—before that, is Leigh Ann Vardy’s lighting. She paints with light. It softens a moment. It zeroes in on a face that impishly smiles out. It creates emotion that catches you unawares and holds you. It provides a soft space for Sophie (Liisa Repo-Martell) to tell us she’s pregnant again and should she tell her husband. She asks the ladies in the audience if they would tell. An embrace between Sophie and Johnny at the end of the play reveals Sophie’s concern, even in a tender moment.

Liisa Repo-Martell is impish way, shy, confident because of love and bold. She knows what she wants and she wants Johnny. She goes after him, not aggressively, but in a way that suggests she has no choice, she is so besotted. She falls in love with Johnny (David Patrick Flemming) because he is sooooooooooooo handsome. Before that Sophie’s sister Alma, a forthright, take-charge, Rebecca Parent, was keeping company with Johnny but kept it quiet so really how was Sophie to know.

Life took a cruel turn. Alma died. Sophie was distraught but found solace with Johnny. Johnny is played by David Patrick Flemming with grace, tenderness, respect and passionate love for Sophie. He glows with joy at each pregnancy. He is concerned of course at Sophie’s struggle through long labours to bring their four children into the world and laments when another dies soon after it’s born. He celebrates each life and doesn’t fret about how to spread his $12 a week salary to feed his growing family.

But he doesn’t fully realize the emotional burden getting pregnant and giving birth has on Sophie. She is desperate for contraception. She doesn’t know how to prevent getting pregnant short of not having sex, and neither she nor Johnny could bear that (no pun intended). Doctors are not helpful.

One can feel the desperation Liisa Repo-Martell as Sophie is experiencing. She and we feel trapped at this situation, which today could easily be solved. She wants to abort, another situation that can be solved today, but not without emotional upheaval.

Christian Barry directs this with sensitivity and deceptive simplicity. We can appreciate how fraught the emotions are in this context of 1920, but rather than raise the fraught level, it’s underplayed. The hyperventilating comes from us (perhaps I mean “us women” and some sensitive and/ or terrified men in 2018).  Whenever Sophie speaks to us to comment she is face-forward, still and charming, letting us in on a secret or a concern. The staging is fluid and economical—no one moves  just to fill the space. We certainly get the sense of the world of the 1920s (Leesa Hamilton’s simple dresses for the women; pants, suspenders, work shirt and undershirt peaking out of the work shirt for Johnny), and how it’s applicable to ours.

A gem of a production of a gut twisting issue.

Comment. Hannah Moscovitch continues to explore serious issues in her plays: physics and time, the holocaust and the implications, sexual awakening. In What a Young Wife Ought to Know (which was first produced in 2015), she explores birth control, sex, intoxicating physical love, passion and marriage from the point of view of life in the 1920s. As she says in her program note, she happened upon a copy of “Dear Dr. Stopes: Sex in the 1920s” which was “a complication of the letters sent to the famous birth control advocate, Dr. Marie Stopes”. Desperate men and women wrote to her about birth control. Moscovitch also happened upon another book of letters: “Maternity: Letters from Working Women.” Moscovitch has used language and turns of phrase from both books to fashion the dialogue in What A Young Wife  Ought to Know. It gives the play an authenticity that puts us in the 1920s but makes us mindful of how far we have come in 2018.  Her story telling, character development and thoughtful thinking about a sobering subject is pure Moscovitch.

Crow’s Theatre presents a 2B Theatre Company Production.

Opened: March 22, 2018.

Closes:  April 7, 2018.

Running Time: 75 minutes.

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