by Lynn on April 6, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer


At the Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. W., Toronto, Ont.

Written by Lisa Ryder

Directed, choreographed by Monica Dottor

Set and costumes by Monica Dottor

Lighting by Oz Weaver

Sound by Richard Feren

Music by Richard Feren and Selina Martin

Cast: Tess Degenstein

Selina Martin

Jordan Pettle

Lisa Ryder

A wild, creative play about postpartum depression in a production that is compelling.

 The Story. NOTE: While the characters have been created by Selina Martin and Lisa Ryder, Lisa Ryder is writing about her own experience with postpartum depression after she had her first child.

Ryder says in her program note that she had been birthing the play for a long time, 13 years to be exact. She is an actress who had been in a sci-fi show for five years.  Within a year and a half of leaving the show she got married, moved to the suburbs of Vancouver and had a baby.

Within three days of having the baby her then husband, also an actor, left town for an acting job, leaving her with a colicky baby, a leaky roof she has to arrange to have fixed, and a profound lack of sleep that is perhaps driving her squirrely. Lisa Ryder has put all this in her play, plus a lot of compassion and humour.

In the play Alice has just had a baby and is stressed with lack of sleep and having to be alert for her cranky baby who doesn’t seem to sleep much.  Alice’s husband Guy is not painted as totally heartless.  He is loving, attentive, always urges her to get some rest.

But he is pre-occupied with going to his acting gig.  And there is the leak in the roof and he expects her to call the roofers and get them to fix it, and take care of the baby, and get rest.

Here is where things get wild. Alice tries to get some sleep when the two roofers arrive, wearing jumpsuits, glitter footwear, wild hair dos and goggles.  They are named Fluff Pup and Cloudy Twilight. They scurry around the furniture, jump on it, act weird. And they take a keen interest in the baby. Ones antennae goes up…who are these people? Are they trying to hurt the baby?

I think it’s obvious that Alice is hallucinating, conjuring these two weird roofers, she is so tired. And there are those thoughts when a new mother is so tired and overcome with taking care of this helpless baby that her thoughts might turn dark.

The Production. Director, Monica Dottor, establishes this darkness right from the get-go. A young woman with a baby in her arms approaches a line on the floor of the set and on the other side it says, Mind the Gap, as in the subway system in London.  The woman wavers, looks distraught, blank, whatever you think.  We hear the sound of a subway train approaching and the mother doesn’t look like it will end well. Just as quickly we go into the play specifically with Alice, her husband and the baby.

Humour is there between Alice and Guy and certainly with the loopy roofers, but we have been primed to be watchful for strange behaviour. If anything Alice is obsessed with listening to the device that can tell her if the baby is crying in another room. If she hears nothing she thinks something is wrong besides the child being asleep.

Director Monica Dottor is such a rock star of a director.  Here she is also the choreographer and designed the simple set and costumes—the wild roofers are hilarious. There are puff-ball clouds above the set, a simple well used sofa and a crib.

Dottor’s production is bold, lively, graceful, and sometimes over the top with the two loopy roofers. Because Dottor is also a choreographer, there is a fluidity to the movement: characters follow each other around almost like the Marx Brothers routine.

And because the cast is so well suited there is an abundance of humour to it all with that undercurrent of seriousness not far away.

As Alice, Tess Degenstein seems so drawn and tired, but still tries to put on a brave face. You do believe she is a stressed out new mother.  She is fearlessly protective of her baby with these two strange roofers.

Jordan Pettle is sweet as Guy the attentive husband, but then scattered and thoughtless when he can’t understand how overwhelmed she is. Both Lisa Ryder as Cloudy Twilight and Selina Martin as Fluff Pup are both loopy and forbidding in their wildly humorous turns as the two roofers. Their smiles seem demonic and not at all friendly.

Comment. We have read stories of new mothers doing harm to themselves and their babies because of postpartum depression and that thought is front and centre with that first scene with the mother, baby and oncoming subway train.

I love Lisa Ryder’s bravery in writing about this really important subject that does not get much attention. And she has written about it in such a compelling, inventive way.

I do have a concern. I thought that the hallucination scene went on too long.  It leaves Alice in a confused, vulnerable position without self-knowledge on how to deal with it.

When the hallucination ends and Guy comes home Alice seems happy for his return, but the play goes on with another scene that echoes the one at the beginning with a different result (I hope I’m being properly vague). I feel the ending is too abrupt and the result not actually earned. I think that needs a rethink and perhaps a tweak here or there. But on the whole, it’s a needed observation of a taboo subject. And it’s given a terrific production.

Nightwood Theatre and Bald Ego present:

Began: March 26, 2019.

Closes: April 14, 2019.

Running Time: 70 minutes.

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