by Lynn on July 19, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person produced by the Here for Now Theatre, at the Stratford Perth Museum, Stratford, Ont. Playing until July 29, 2023.

Written by Madeleine Brown

Directed and designed by Monique Lund

Cast: Carmen Grant

Bethany Jillard

Louriza Tronco

In Margaret Reid playwright Madeleine Brown has created a wild, absurdist comedy with a touch of unsettling mystery.

Cora (Louriza Tronco) and Debbie (Bethany Jillard) are 12-year-olds who meet at a public speaking competition. Debbie is exuberantly played by Bethany Jillard; lively, enthusiastic, animated. She talks about The Wizard of Oz. Cora as played by Louriza Tronco is more subdued, somber even. She talks about her lategrandmother who had three legs and died ‘in 9/11’. We aren’t sure if that meant she was in the twin towers or on one of the planes, or if she just died on that day and it had nothing to do with the disaster. We aren’t told. In her presentation Cora wore an artificial leg hanging down her front, held on by a rope around her waist. The presentation must have impressed the judges because she won the big trophy for the best speech.

Over the next 10 years the two ‘non-friends’ meet twice (in five-year increments). The first time Debbie is preparing for a world public speaking competition and Cora says she is not participating. Cora reveals a truth about the first competition that rattles Debbie.

When they meet five years after that, Debbie is working a job in a restaurant and Cora is a successful motivational speaker. Again, Cora tells Debbie some information that happened five years before. Cora has a penchant for lying and Debbie just continues to believe her.

Enmeshed in their lives is Margaret Reid (played with a compelling smile and formidable presence by Carmen Grant). Debbie baby-sat Margaret Reid’s child. Something horrible happened in that house and both Debbie and Cora were present and it’s haunted Debbie and perhaps Cora ever since.

Director/designer Monique Lund gets right into the absurdist whimsy of Margaret Reid. The set is strewn with toys for all ages. The artificial leg lays over the edge of the entrance to the tent where the play is performed. There is a plunger and a toilet on the other side of the opening—both will be used later. There is a radio and other colourful stuff that suggest fun and games. It’s a ploy to keep us unsettled when things turn serious.

To show the extent to which Margaret Reid is involved in Cora and Debbie’s lives, Monique Lund has the three characters on stage, Cora and Debbie appear to be robot-like. Margaret Reid (Carmen Grant) appears behind them and arranges their arms and heads just so, in a pose. She gives them clothing they hold as she arranges their arms in front of them. They will put on the clothing and then go into their scene and Margaret Reid will disappear. But she reappears when they, and certainly Debbie, don’t expect it—in her thoughts, dreams, subconscious.

As Debbie, Bethany Jillard is particularly good at showing how unsettled she is with the news that Cora has told her and with the specter of Margaret Reid just about to appear when she least expects it. As Cora Louriza Tronco has that coolness of an obsessive liar, always assuming that the trusting Debbie would know that Cora had been lying and Debbie never caught on.

I didn’t find Margaret Reid as funny as the rest of my audience did. I thought that playwright Madeleine Brown tried too hard to be absurd. But I appreciate the inventive imagination of Madeleine Brown and her quirky characters. I also found Monique Lund’s gusto in her direction impressive—she really got into the humour of the piece and also realized those moments when characters (and the audience) would be unhinged.

Here for Now Theatre Presents:

Plays until July 29, 2023.

Running time: 1 hour and 12 minutes (no intermission)   

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