by Lynn on February 14, 2020

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth Ave., Toronto, Ont.

Written by Jordan Harrison

Directed by Stewart Arnott

Set and costumes by Gillian Callow

Lighting by Nick Blais

Composer and sound by Bram Gielen

Cast: Beau Dixon

Sarah Dodd

Gordon Hecht

Martha Henry

Apologies for the lateness of this review.

Memory. It’s selective, unreliable, fuzzy, clear and ephemeral. We grasp to hold on to it, lament when we lose it and therefore lose a part of ourselves and  rejoice when we command it.

In Jordan Harrison’s delicate and gripping play Marjorie Prime (Martha Henry) is 85 and losing her memory. She lives with her daughter Tess (Sarah Dodd) and son-in-law Jon (Beau Dixon). Marjorie is a master of deflection. In Martha Henry’s nuanced performance of Marjorie if her memory is hazy on a point, she covers it with a flip of her hands as if shooing the annoyance away. The facial expression is impish as if forgetting is deliberate and planned—a joke. It drives Tess mad. Then there are those troubling moments when Marjorie is in distress at what is happening to her. They are equally as moving.

Tess is loving and concerned about her mother but she has a lot to contend with. She is haunted by a troubled childhood. Her mother gets on her nerves. Jon is more easy-going in his dealing with Marjorie. In a way Tess is the bad cop to Jon’s good cop. All Tess wants is someone who supports her emotionally in her issues with Marjorie. In Sarah Dodd’s wonderful performance as Tess we see a woman always trying hard to hold on to her temper and often losing it. Beau Dixon as Jon is the essence of patience, understanding and reason. While he tries to reason Tess into understanding her mother better that only makes Tess more impatient.

And then there is Walter (Gordon Hecht giving a beautifully measured performance). He is the ‘ideal’ young man—attentive, attractive, considerate and concerned. He just appears from the side of Gillian Gallow’s stylish set of Tess and Jon’s kitchen where he has been sitting quietly. When Walter is not in a scene, he sits in a chair at the side of the stage, watching Marjorie and the action attentively.  Is he Marjorie’s memory of her late husband come to life as a young man? Is he a ghost? Or is his presence something else entirely? In this world of artificial intelligence is Walter an android created to keep Marjorie company and happy in her thoughts? We become more and more aware of these questions as Jordan Harrison’s provocative play progresses. Director Steward Arnott’s sensitive, careful direction also keeps us on our toes. While the behaviour of the characters ‘seems’ normal there are little quirks, slight turns of the head that keep us wondering right to the end—who/what are we looking at? Is it real or is it “Memorex?”

Once again the Coal Mine Theatre has programmed a play that is challenging, embracing and totally engaging.

Coal Mine Theatre presents:

Opened: Jan. 29, 2020.

Closes: Feb. 23. (7:30 pm performance added for Feb. 23).

Running Time: 75 minutes, approx.

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