Reviews: Janet and Louise and Post Alice, at the Here for Now Theatre, 2021 New Works Festival, Stratford, Ont.

by Lynn on July 28, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person under a lovely canopy for Here for Now Theatre, 2021 New Works Festival, Back lawn of the Bruce Hotel, Stratford, Ont.

Janet and Louise

Written by Deanna Kruger

Directed by Jeannette Lambermont-Morey

Cast: Peggy Coffey

Brigit Wilson

Janet has mysterious ailments. She fainted on the job—she’s a custodian at an elementary school. She broke her arm; gashed her head and seems a bit woozy. Her doctor prescribed art lessons to aid in her healing and try and keep her job, which she loves.

Louise’s art studio is doing badly. There is noisy construction going on outside. Louise is an irritable, prickly soul who has chased any customers away. Janet is her last chance to survive. Both Janet and Louise have issues. They also have a past. They know each other. Louise was Janet’s older sister Rita’s best friend when they were teenagers. Then something happened to Janet and Rita’s parents and Louise was not there to give Rita support. Louise’s marriage also suffered from that lack of support. But something happens during the play that might redeem Louise.

Deanna Kruger has written an intriguing play of two fragile characters trying to hold on to what they can and cope with the obstacles that keep getting in their way. Janet’s mysterious illnesses keep her unsteady. The fainting. She had a mishap with a mudpuddle on her way to Louise’s studio. And she had to endure being berated by Louise for being late for the lesson.

Louise also has her issues. That irritability and prickliness does not endear her to customers or people in general. Her failing business is making her anxious and she is desperate to keep Janet as a pupil. Slowly, they reach out to one another. Slowly information about their past and present is revealed. A twist at the end makes one’s eye pop in surprise and how that is “resolved” is a thing of beauty. Bravo to Deanna Kruger for such an engaging play.

Jeannette Lambermont-Morey has directed this with a sure hand and lots of attention to detail. She has brought out these characters’ frustrations in subtle body language. Peggy Coffey, as Janet is a creation of unsteadiness: on her legs, in her life, with her ailments. She seems fuzzy minded, trying to keep her wits about her. Janet’s first response to difficulty with the art lessons is to quit. Louise can’t let that happen. As Louise, Brigit Wilson is fierce in creating a character with not one shred of sentimentality, but with lots of resentments and anxieties. It slowly becomes clear that Louise has been carrying a burden of regret for a long time. She behaved badly to her friend Rita when they were teens. Louise behaved badly to her husband with whom she had a rocky marriage. Without ‘ceremony’ she makes amends at the end and it’s a terrific moment.

Janet and Louise is another gem of a play that joins the roster of the others in the Here for Now Theatre, 2021 New Works Festival.  

Here for Now, 2021 New Works Festival

Plays until August 15, 2021.

Running Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes, no intermission.

Post Alice

Written by Taylor Marie Graham

Directed by Fiona Mongillo

Costumes by Monique Lund

Composer, Mark Payne

Cast: Heather Marie Annis

Ellen Denny

Aubree Erickson

Siobhan O’Malley

From the description of the play: “Inspired by four haunting characters from four iconic Alice Munro stories, Post Aliceis a stunning new contemporary play which asks the question: what really happened to Mistie Murray? And what happens to all our missing girls? Come sit around the fire with four bright and hilarious Huron County women as ghost stories emerge, songs fill the air, family secrets are revealed, and mysteries unravel into those wonderful contradictions which live inside us all. Warning: Mature subject matter, swearing and use of herbal cigarette in performances. “

Post Alice is not a play about ghost stories, per se. It’s deeper than that. Belle has serious health issues and her friends Oneida and Edie and her sister Wen gather to give her comfort. They fret about her health (we find out what the issue is later in the play). Belle is ‘witling’ a large piece of wood and nicks her thumb, which really causes concern, although initially she’s not bleeding. These women have been friends since high school. They know secrets about each other which are gradually revealed.

Belle (Siobhan O’Malley) is anxious about her prognosis but tries to hide it with flippancy and a coolness. Oneida (Heather Marie Annis) has received a letter that she is reluctant to read because it will have information about her cultural background. Her father is Haudenosaunee and was always unwilling to give her any information about her heritage. This letter will fill her in, but she needs her friends around to give her courage to read it. Edie (Aubree Erickson) has flown in in her own plane to be there. Wen (Ellen Denny) is Belle’s sister. There is good natured banter as each woman teases and joshes the others. Truths come out about an incident that happened at a party when they were teens that has certainly affected them into adulthood. And then there is the mystery of Mistie Murray.

Mistie Murray was a friend of theirs in high school who disappeared one day—telling her mother she was going to band practice. There was no band practice and she never returned. What happened to her has occupied these women for years. There are theories and suggestions but the mystery remains.

The play and production are full of references to missing and lost girls. The four women sing a wonderful haunting song (kudos to composer Mark Payne) of what happens to all the missing girls. One immediately thinks of the link to the numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, deepening the play, giving it resonance.

Director Fiona Mongillo has created a beautifully nuanced production. At one point a character takes a red shawl that has been draped over a bench and delicately ties it around a pole in such a way that it drapes down and could be symbolic/representative of red dresses that were hung from trees that symbolized a missing or murdered Indigenous woman or girl. It’s a stunning image.

The acting of the ensemble—and this is a true ensemble—is impeccable; the singing is moving and evocative. Taylor Marie Graham has written an arresting and funny play about women and their friendships, coping with a troubled past and supporting each other.

Here for Now Theatre, 2021, New Works Festival.

Plays until August, 15, 2021.

Running Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes, no intermission.  

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