by Lynn on May 9, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Tarragon Extra Space, Toronto, Ont. Plays until May 11, 2023.


Written by Chelsey Woolley

Directed by Mike Payette

Set by Ken MacDonald

Costumes by Julia Surich

Lighting by Tim Rodriques

Sound by John Gzowski

Cast: Jessica B. Hill

Tanja Jacobs

Jeremiah Sparks.

A fractured family tries to find love and truth from one who disappeared and returned after 25 years.

The Story. Cecilia is waiting to welcome her long absent father Jules into her new, fixer-upper home. He took off 25 years before, leaving her and her mother, Rhondi, to fend for themselves. They would get postcards from exotic places. Jules apparently worked in properties that he managed all over the world. Now he’s come home and Jules gives Cecilia an explanation of what he’s been up to, that changes as she presses him with more questions. Cecilia’s mother Rhondi also has her own story about her wayward husband.

The Production and comment. Ken MacDonald has designed a wonderful set of Cecilia’s (Jessica B. Hill) fixer-upper home. It needs repair for sure. There are sections of the wall that are worn through. The walls need a coat of three of paint. The furniture is rustic. But the place is Cecilia’s and she’s happy with it. Jules (Jeremiah Sparks) is staying with Cecilia a few days and offers advice on how to improve the place. Then he changes his mind and decides to leave sooner with a vague excuse. I can appreciate that Jules has a lot to hide and reveals it gradually, but a character who keeps changing his story and changing his story, wears a person’s patience thin. One stops caring. That’s not good.

As Jules, Jeremiah Sparks is charming, calm, almost shyly chastened and very smooth when changing his ever-changing story. Where is the truth? All Cecilia wants is the truth. As Cecilia, Jessica B. Hill walks a fine line between eager to ‘meet’ her father after so many years and anxious that he will disappoint her again with some lie or other. Rhondi (Tanja Jacobs) is Cecilia’s strong-willed mother, knows how her ex-husband operates and is prepared for anything he can throw at her. She tries to protect her daughter, but at one point one has to let an adult child be an adult and fight her own battles.

Playwright Chelsey Woolley has written an extensive programme note (glad of ‘something’ printed as a programme, albeit a folded page, but boy do I miss the full informative programme in my hands). Chelsey Woolley says that she read Harold Pinter’s play Betrayal a lot when she was writing Paint Me This House of Love. She notes: “I love Betrayal because of what is written, but more so because of what isn’t. There is a quiet yearning in that text. To me, it is a play about three people desperate for love, who just can’t figure out the formula.”

Well, it is tempting, isn’t it, to fall into the trap of thinking that Paint Me This House Of Love is a kind of riff on Harold Pinter’s Betrayal? Except it isn’t. Betrayal is about a married couple in which the wife has an affair with her husband’s best friend. It goes on secretly for years, until the wife tells the husband of the affair (betraying her lover) but still continuing the affair. Then after the affair ends telling the lover that she will then tell her husband of the affair, even though she has already done that, years before. Pinter being sly. His dialogue is pristine, spare and full of subtext.

Paint Me This House of Love is actually nothing like Betrayal. If anything, Chelsey Woolley’s play is more David Mamet with its machine-gun dialogue of sentence fragments whizzing through the air between Cecilia and Jules. The timing must be spot on and precise so the audience can hang on to these fragments and get the whole thought.  And under Mike Payette’s smart, sharp direction, it is. Both Jessica B. Hill as Cecilia and Jeremiah Sparks as Jules are so on the money in this furious exchange that the audience is never in doubt that these two people don’t know how to talk to each other, though, strangely, they listen. We get the idea of their awkwardness in the situation and with each other; of people who have a lot to say and don’t know how to say it.

It’s a terrific exercise for a playwright experimenting with form/technique, and for an actor wanting to stretch their chops. It’s just that the form/technique is so decidedly another playwright’s—Mamet. I prefer to hear Chelsea Woolley’s true theatrical voice.   

Tarragon Theatre presents:

Runs until May 11, 2023.

Running time: 2 hours approx.

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