by Lynn on February 6, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the CAA Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Presented by Mirvish Productions and the Company Theatre. Playing until February 26.

Written by Andrew Bovell

Directed by Philip Riccio

Set by Shannon Lea Doyle

Costumes by Ming Wong

Lighting by Nick Blais

Sound by Deanna H. Choi

Cast: Alanna Bale

Michael Derworiz

Christine Horne

Daniel Maslany

Tom McCamus

Seana McKenna

Andrew Bovell’s bitter-sweet play about family ties that bind and tear apart is given a beautiful, sensitive production thanks to director Philip Riccio and his cast.

The Story. Bob and Fran Price love each other and their four adult children. Bob took a retirement package when he was made redundant from his job at the automotive factory. He now spends his time in his beloved garden in the backyard, honing, pruning and tending his roses. Fran still works as a nurse. Of their four children, three have moved out and are on their own: Pip is the oldest, is married with children and works as an education department bureaucrat; Mark is an IT specialist whose girlfriend has just broken up with him; Ben works in financial services and has difficulty sustaining a relationship with any girlfriend. The youngest is Rosie who is searching for herself, and what she wants to do. She begins looking in Europe, taking the grand tour, as you do, to try and find herself. She has a heart-breaking experience with a young man she met in Berlin and thought she loved and immediately flies home to the open arms of her parents. (The play takes place in Australia because playwright Andrew Bovell is Australian, but the play is at home anywhere—one of its many beauties).

Fran calls each of the children to tell them that Rosie has returned and they immediately come over to the parents’ house to see their sister. The family dynamic is immediately revealed. Fran knows that something is wrong for Rosie to come home without warning. She assumes it was because of a boy and he hurt her. Bob never intuits this but accepts Fran’s assessment. He just loves his daughter unconditionally. The other children also love Rosie. Pip is harried with work and tending her family. Mark knows his sister Rosie very well—they have a special bond. Ben is always in a rush and never seems to have time to stay. He swoops in, checks the fridge, picks up the shirts that his mother irons for him (leaving his siblings aghast at the mother who would do it and the son who expects her to do it). And there is the gentle chiding of the parents of the children, mainly from Fran. They all could do better. The love is there, but there is the eye-brow-knitted look at something they say or do that suggests that they could do better. Still Fran is the glue of that family. She knows intuitively when something is wrong and that really bugs her children and perhaps Bob too, even though she always guesses right. They all have secrets and they all try to hide them, but they all eventually come out.

The Production. Shannon Lea Doyle has designed a set of the Price family kitchen and the lush garden in the backyard. The garden is full of Bob’s roses, other plants, a shed, and a graceful interesting-limbed tree. This is the elegant, almost womanly looking tree repurposed from the Shaw Festival, now standing in the backyard.

The positioning of Shannon Lea Doyle’s set makes the theatre seem strangely off-kilter. The stage left wall of the kitchen juts out on one side of the backyard-garden. But if you are sitting close to the stage on the house right side, you can’t see some of the kitchen because the wall blocks the view. A bit more thought should have gone into the design, or more exploring of sightlines from all parts of the theatre were in order.

Nick Blais’ lighting creates a moody feel to the production; scenes in silhouette quietly establish harsh, heartbreaking news. Deanna H. Choi’s sound and music of the production, especially Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” adds a sense of melancholy as each secret is revealed.

Playwright Andrew Bovell hints from the very first scene that there will be something that turns that family upside down. He then gradually establishes who each of the people are and their relationship to each other.

Director Philip Riccio has carefully staged the busy comings and goings of this family. There is a sense of the heightened activity when all six members are in the kitchen but never a sense that this is chaos. They all know how to maneuver around the small space of the kitchen, show each other love, yet manage to negotiate without any collisions. In a sense, Philip Riccio has created careful chorography. He has also established the intense love this family has for each other. There are touches, stokes of an arm, tender looks, subtle reactions, many and various tactile indications of affection. The children all return often to that home, no matter the chiding from Fran (Seana McKenna). Bob (Tom McCamus) is more easy going, accepting of what they do to a point.  

Perhaps the most telling line is from Fran when Rosie (Alanna Bale) comes home.  Fran says “we can sleep again”. The love of these parents for their children perhaps borders on smothering.  

Seana McKenna plays Fran Price and Tom McCamus plays Bob Price. These actors are rock stars. Nuance, understatement and subtlety pour out of them and resonate with every word and gesture. There is a totally familiar ease with their acting together. They’ve known one another for 50 years and have acted together several times. There is a shorthand of communication. Well, lots of people know each other for a long time and they don’t/can’t create exquisite, breathtaking, tear-gushing work like this. There is respect, appreciation, listening, understanding and love at play here. Their playing leaves you limp in your seat—you are just left breathless at the artistry of these two.   

As Rosie, Allana Bale has the first monologue of the play, talking about her travels and meeting a man with whom she falls instantly in love. It’s a languid speech that builds. Allana Bale is a mass of fluttery hands to punctuate moments, lots of body language and over-reactions. All that fussy business upstages the speech and robs her of making it poignant and quietly resounding. The fussy business continues for the play. In her second big monologue, when she is informing what happened to a character, she often clasped her hands, was generally still and that made the telling simple and compelling. More restraint would be helpful.

Each sibling has a secret that is slowly revealed As Pip, Christine Horne has a smile that hides sadness. The truth comes out when Pip sends her mother Fran a letter from Vancouver where she has gone, leaving her family. As Fran reads the letter in the garden Pip, recites what is in the letter. Christine Horne is almost still in the telling. It’s a performance of subtle awareness by the character and it is stunning. At key moments Fran reacts at the emotion of it all. Mark, as played by Michael Derworiz is obviously gay, but that isn’t his secret. How his parents react is startling. Michael Derworiz gives a performance of quiet resolve and dignity. Happy-go-lucky Ben is played as slightly manic by Daniel Maslany. Ben is determined to race with the high-rollers and this performance shows how hard Ben is working to achieve that end.

Andrew Bovell has written a deeply felt drama of family love with which we can all identify. One of the many impressive things about this impressive writer, is that he writes so well and perceptively about women. His creation of Fran alone delves deep into motherly love, that is both smothering and pointed. Bovell illuminates this woman’s hold on each member of the family and how they all come to rely on her for so many things.   

Comment. Things I know To Be True is a play that will resonate with everyone, no matter if you are a parent or have parents. It is moving, gut-wrenching, funny and universal in its reach. And when you see it, and you should, you will need Kleenex. That is one of the many things I know to be true as well.

Mirvish Production and The Company Theatre present:

Opened: February 5, 2023.

Closes: February 26, 2023.

Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes (1 intermission)

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