by Lynn on August 13, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Stratford Perth Museum, Stratford, Ont. until Aug. 26, 2023. Produced by Here for Now Theatre.

Written by Steve Ross

Directed by Jan Alexandra Smith

Costume and sets by Darren Burkett

Cast: Sean Dolan

Robert King

Linda Prystawska

Compelling play and production.

The Story. From the programme: “Family is everything. A good marriage. Happy children. A rock-solid foundation. But nothing is ever simple or straightforward. What happens when things start to unravel? When tragedy strikes is it just too much? How does one woman move forward when everything she loves is taken from her?

Production. Preamble on why I love HERE FOR NOW THEATRE:

It’s small but mighty.  In a way it’s the other Stratford festival. The company was started by Fiona Mongillo, the artistic director. It mainly focuses on women’s stories and experiences. They are written mostly by women, directed by them and the casts and creatives are mainly Stratford locals…all professional. The plays are short, about an hour to an hour and a half. This year they are performed under a tent with one side looking out onto an idyllic meadow.  And the plays pack a punch or are wildly funny or may be an opera for kids. The offerings are varied in theme but all are uniformly real quality.

Now to Life Without. Here’s my first contradiction.  While Here for Now Theatre’s plays might be written mainly by women, Life Withoutwas written by Steve Ross, a man. He is mainly known as an actor, but he’s also a playwright.

A few years ago he wrote goldfish for Here For Now Theatre, about an irascible, lonely old man and the woman who moved in across the street who befriends him. Steve Ross delves into the lonely heart and finds stories.

There are three comfortable chairs on the stage facing the audience.  A man arrives from outside the tent and sits in the far seat stage left. He smiles and seems pleasant. Then a woman arrives and sits in the end seat from the man, stage right. Her name is Liz (Linda Prystawska). She seems nervous, or ill at ease. She doesn’t acknowledge the man. She begins to talk about her life. She talks about her husband Jack. He was a decent man. A good husband and an attentive father to their daughter Clare. When they had Clare they were devoted to her. But something changed when Clare was 14. Secretive, distant and aimless. The parents found her unconscious in the house. She was drunk and passed out. And she tells them, “She’s pregnant.”

So Liz goes on with the story. She’s angry with disappointment at her daughter. She can’t understand how this could happen, and she, Liz, was not aware of any problems etc. We find out that Clare had been drinking since she was 12-years-old

She’s agitated; never looks at anyone, us, the other guy in the chair—she’s just hard-nosed-angry. The other guy remains silent throughout this opening monologue. He does react as if he’s listening, but it is a mystery who he etc. Of course, we find out.  

When Liz finishes her long monologue we hear from him and it’s all directed to the audience—not Liz. He’s Jack (Robert King), the husband. He is more easy-going than Liz, not as edgy. He talks about meeting Liz and how they hit it off. They dated; got married and enjoyed their own company until a few years later Liz got pregnant with Clare.

I found it interesting that Jack said he did not go to any of the pre-natal classes with Liz, but was right there with her at the birth in the hospital. He was an attentive, loving father. He could not take his eyes off his daughter. Naturally he had a soft spot for her, but was terribly disappointed with her when she was found passed out and learned she was pregnant. Clare was going to have the baby. She never talked of the baby’s father—not in the picture. Clare never bonded with the baby, a boy they named Josh so his upbringing was left to Liz and Jack.  Again, the grandparents doted on the kid until matters spiraled again out of control when Josh (Sean Dolan) was a teenager.

Director Jan Alexandra Smith has directed a solid production. I loved the guessing game of the production. The story is harrowing to both Liz and Jack who sit in their chairs and direct the dialogue to us. One wonders if they are in the same room at the same time? Who is Liz addressing when she is telling the story, a therapist, some probation officer? Who? Is Jack in the room with her as well? Does she see him? He does look directly at her but she doesn’t acknowledge him. To give away more would be to give away too much.

I don’t find the guessing game confusing—I think it’s part of the allure of the piece and Jan Alexandra Smith’s subtle direction. And I found the acting just terrific.  Linda Prystawska plays Liz as an angry, unforgiving woman so disappointed by so much in her life. As long as her daughter was young and cute Liz was fine. When Clare strayed, Liz was wounded and hurt. Forgiveness is not part of her human arsenal.

Robert King plays Jack her husband, as a more accommodating person, loving, forgiving, confused of course, but gentler. And then there is Sean Dolan as Josh, the grandson as a teenager—this is a character trying to find his way. He’s had a terrible time in life, but he might get through it.  Terrific acting.

Steve Ross knows how to fashion a story of family trauma and drama. He weaves an intricate, complex story of people with issues, who love each other, but disappointment creeps in. Liz looks so rigid in her dealings with various people. One wonders if she can soften and forgive. Jack is more adaptable and caring it seems, but his perspective is different. And we see a young man in Josh who is struggling too, to make it through. Josh has wisdom that will inform his life.

I found the dialogue between Liz and Josh was heartfelt and smart. Each has their point of view and can defend it without being vindictive and hurtful.

It’s about a family going through a hard time. We can all identify with that; we can see similarities in our lives and how we handled it and if we handled it better than the people on stage or not. That’s the beauty of theatre….it holds a mirror up to society, and that’s us.

Comment. I liked Life Withouta lot and I think it’s worth a trip to Stratford to Here for Now Theatre.

Here for Now Theatre presents:

Running until Aug. 26, 2023.

Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes (approx.)

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