by Lynn on July 14, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Coal Mine Theatre, 1450 Danforth Ave. Toronto, Ont. until Aug. 7, 2022.

Written by Lisa D’Amour

Directed by Jill Harper

Set by Ken MacDonald

Costumes by Melanie McNeill

Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

Sound by Tim Lindsay

Cast: Diana Bentley

Sergio Di Zio

Craig Lauzon

Louise Lambert

Eric Peterson

Time changes everything since this play premiered in 2010. Then it was referencing the financial fallout of 2008 in the U.S. Now we can’t ignore how our isolation of the past two years has influenced how we look at this sly, bracing, unsettling play. The production is dandy.

The Story. Mary and Ben have invited their next-door neighbours, Kenny and Sharon, over for a barbeque. It’s noted that it’s so rare for neighbours to interact. No one goes to a neighbour’s anymore to borrow a cup of sugar. So, this sign of neighbourliness is noted and appreciated by Kenny and Sharon and by Mary and Ben, as well.

Mary and Ben own their finished house, though their sliding screen-door to the backyard is ‘wonky’ and gets stuck. They have a patio with patio furniture, although the umbrella doesn’t stay up, and they have a nifty barbeque. Mary works in an office. Ben has just been laid off as a loans officer, but is working on building a website to offer consulting.

Kenny and Sharon are staying in the house next door as it’s Kenny’s aunt’s house. Kenny works in construction. Sharon works at a call centre. They met at re-hab. Mary notes that there is no furniture to speak of in Kenny and Sharon’s house. Practically none. Gradually, as the play unfolds, cracks appear in each couple’s story.

The Production. Director Jill Harper has directed a tight, detail-filled production that serves the play beautifully. The Coal Mine Theatre is so intimate, the audience is so close to the action and the playing area so small that every reaction, gesture and side-long glance speaks volumes.

Ken MacDonald has designed a set that shows the difference in the two neighbouring houses. Mary (Diana Bentley) and Ben’s (Sergio Di Zio) house has that sticky door that needs a simple adjustment and Kenny (Craig Lauzon) does that quickly. Ben doesn’t seem to be ‘handy.’ The top of the sliding door has a spoke-like design that might look a little off, so in some areas the house might need some upkeep that it’s not getting. Perhaps we are to surmise that with two people working (at the time) simple upkeep was not top priority.

Mary and Ben’s patio has a modern barbeque. The patio furniture is efficient and useful but the umbrella won’t stay up and this makes Mary anxious, who is trying to keep the umbrella up. Ben does some fiddling and the umbrella stays up, temporarily. The patio floor seems finished.

The house and patio of Kenny and Sharon’s (Louise Lambert) house suggests that it hasn’t been occupied in a long time. The patio, if that’s what it can be called, is bare. It’s more a desolate backyard. The door leading from the backyard to the inside of the house is simple.

Melanie McNeill has dressed Mary and Ben in preppy, casual clothes. Kenny and Sharon are in ‘grungier’ clothes, not as a fashion statement but because they can’t afford better clothing.

Initially when Mary and Ben welcome Kenny and Sharon, Diana Bentley, as Mary and Sergio Di Zio, as Ben are gracious, buoyant in their welcome but perhaps a bit over the top We can see an effort in being gracious hosts. As Mary tries to keep the umbrella up Diana Bentley gives Mary a tight smile, trying to keep her anxiety in check. As Ben, Sergio Di Zio takes over and gingerly fixes the umbrella but only temporarily.  Tempers flare between Mary and Ben and it’s only the beginning.

Mary and Ben serve steaks and potato salad for the barbeque meal. One wonders if this is showing off, since Ben has lost his job. Playwright Lisa D’Amour has us thinking such things in her play. When the meal is served Craig Lauzon as Kenny dives into the food with such gusto, it might seem that he hasn’t eaten in a long time. He carves his steak with fierceness and chews it quickly and gulps down each piece and the potato salad. He’s finished before anyone else. Director Jill Harper and Craig Lauzon are making a clear and pointed comment about Kenny.

While cracks gradually appear in the relationship between Mary and Ben, the relationship between Kenny and Sharon initially seems tight. Craig Lauzon as Kenny and Louise Lambert as Sharon do have their private asides in public but they seem accommodating. These two have been damaged with their drug abuse and cling to and depend on each other. Clues about their relationship also gradually appear and it’s not as idyllic as one assumes. Craig Lauzon as Kenny is imposing and because he speaks quietly that only magnifies his effect. As Sharon, Louise Lambert is more demonstrative and comfortable with Ben and Mary than Kenny is, but that makes her as interesting as Kenny is quiet. Eric Peterson as Frank offers some interesting information that, even when we think the play might have concluded, unsettles us even further. Eric Peterson plays Frank as a man who would be a good neighbour; who would be helpful with that cup of sugar.

Playwright Lisa D’Amour peels away the layers of this intriguing play slowly but with an ever-relentless pace until its astonishing conclusion.  

Comment. Program notes are always interesting so see what the playwright was thinking when the play was written. The temptation is to take that at face value. Times have changed since Lisa D’Amour wrote her play, wanting to illuminate the financial crisis of 2008. In 2022 we are coming off a two year ‘isolation’ from theater, friends, borrowing a cup of sugar, and the play has a difference resonance. But as with all theatre, each member of the audience will bring their own experiences to the play and get a different outcome than might have been intended. And that will be right as well. There are no wrong answers in theatre.

Bravo to Coal Mine Theatre for another play to unsettle, shake us up and heartily entertain.

Coal Mine Theatre presents:

Plays until: Aug. 7, 2022.

Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

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