by Lynn on May 21, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Coal Mine Theatre, 2076 Danforth Ave, Toronto, Ont. Plays until June 3, 2023.

Written by Adam Rapp

Director Leora Morris

Set, lighting and props by Wes Babcock

Costumes by Laura Delchiaro

Sound and music composition by Chris Ross-Ewart

Cast: Aidan Correia

Moya O’Connell

And intriguing play about writing, language, meeting a soul-mate and getting a second chance.

The Story. Bella is a professor of creative writing at Yale University. She’s written one book of fiction years before that was politely received and she has not published since. She is funny, self-deprecating, lonely, and might be ill but has to get it checked.  She’s in a rut in a way, until she meets one of her students who challenges her in many ways.    

The Production and comment. The stage is raised and there is only a desk and chair on it,  facing upstage. These will be moved around according to the scene. Bella (Moya O’Connell at her usual compelling best) fills us in as she tells us of her life, her writing, her concerns with her health and she does it in a self-deprecating manner that tries to veil the rut she’s in and her concerns with her health. Her humour aside, Bella is isolated in her mid-life, there is no mention of others.

It soon becomes clear that when Bella addresses the unknown listener—us—she is talking in an almost florid, contrived way, a way she warns her students against in their writing. And it’s clear she is really ‘auditioning’ her thoughts and ideas to us for a book.  Indeed, at times she stops to write down a line or thought. She writes with gusto, energy, a spark.  

Christopher (Aidan Correia) is one of Bella’s students. He shows up at Bella’s office outside office hours—a bit entitled is Christopher that he doesn’t think he needs an appointment. Christopher appears with a start out of a chair in which he has been sitting, in a darkened space off from the rise of the stage. He bounds on stage and effortlessly lifts the chair after him. He slumps in the chair. As Christopher, Aidan Correia is irreverent, smarmy, cheeky and challenging to get a rise out of Bella. Moya O’Connell as Bella, is watchful of this challenging young man and tries not to be unsettled by him. She reminds him of her office hours. He brushes it off. Christopher is articulate, brash, supremely confident about his abilities and dismissive of his classmates. And he’s written a novel. Bella is intrigued.

Bella can talk technically to him about writing and language. And Christopher can talk technically to her too and appreciate what she’s saying. He’s read her book and praises it with conviction. I don’t think he’s calculating to get her on his side. He’s too confident for that. I sense he feels he can charm her with his intellect and abilities. He feels he is far and away better than any student in the class. Moya O’Connell as Bella and Aidan Correia as Christopher play the scene with gusto, an exchange between writing-loving equals not between teacher and student. A bond forms between them. It looks like the situation can sink into cliché with the two of them having a sexual relationship. But playwright Adam Rapp and the careful direction of Leora Morris go in a different direction.

When Bella meets Christopher, she comes up with thoughts that she will soon write down. So aha, she’s just really preparing a book that will result after the play.

I think the production is dandy, directed with care by Leora Morris, but perhaps with a bit too much moving of the desk and chairs to change the scene. Moya O’Connell brings such a fragility, a wistfulness and yearning to Bella. Often, she suggests that this brash young man is unsettling her world. This is a beautifully paced performance.

As Christopher, Aidan Correia is intense, challenging and brash. When he goes on a tear about writing I think the speed at which Correia speaks makes it seem contrived and not a natural observation. More nuance and a more aware pacing would strengthen the performance and not make it seem as if Correia has rehearsed all of Christopher’s exuberance, which of course he has.

Adam Rapp has written an interesting character study of the creative writing professor and her arrogant and perhaps gifted student.  Bella is a professor who warns her students against florid writing but uses that exact kind of dialogue when describing her life, etc.  Bella is a woman who reads great books, but can’t write them. Can she do it when she gets a second chance?  Can she help Christopher write his ‘great novel’? Her enthusiasm for his work is infectious. It buoys him.  Christopher is a mystery, there are a lot of gaps that might explain who he really is. Is he intentionally underwritten to keep us intrigued?

Interesting play with a luminous performance by Moya O’Connell.

Coal Mine Theatre presents:

Running until: June 3.

Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission)

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