by Lynn on November 26, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Tarragon Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont. Playing (extended) until Dec. 10, 2023.

Written by Morris Panych

Directed by Jackie Maxwell

Set by Ken MacDonald

Costumes by Joyce Padua

Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

Sound and composition by Jacob Lin

Cast: Benedict Campbell

Corinne Koslo

Nancy Palk

Johnathan Sousa

In this age of youth and all things ‘young,’ a bold and daring play about seniors trying to find their way after being stuck in their routine. A mysterious stranger gets them startled out of their routine and started on their journey.

The Story. We are in the leafy neighbourhood of Withrow Park in Toronto’s east end, Logan Avenue. Janet, her ex-husband Arthur, and Marion, Janet’s sister, all live together in the large house overlooking Withrow Park. There is a knock on the door and it’s a stranger, a young man named Simon, who has come to introduce himself because he just moved into the area (One wonders, who ever does that, introduce themselves to the neighbours?? It’s one of the delicious mysteries of Morris Panych’s play). Marion and Arthur view Simon with suspicion. Janet invites him to dinner. A shift occurs in the lives of Janet, Marion and Arthur, as a result.

The Production. Ken MacDonald has designed a beautiful set of the interior of the house. It’s beautifully appointed with large, stuffed furniture. People with a conservative, elegant taste live here. Various polished, dark wood china cabinets festoon the living room. There are framed pictures on the walls. There are three large comfortable chairs, with side tables, arranged for easy conversation. Large windows look out onto the lush greenery of the park. Plants are arranged around the space. But something is odd in Ken MacDonald’s beautiful set—the trees of the park are growing through the walls of the house. Ken MacDonald’s sets always add a layer to the play that makes us look and notice.

Janet, an energetic, lively Nancy Palk is going off to the “unfriendly fishstore” and wants to know if her sister Marion, a laid-back Corrine Koslo, wants anything. Marion is not forthcoming with information. She is a bit reticent, as if she is hiding something. There is also an eye-doctor appointment for Janet in the future, she is having difficulty seeing. All this information is handled matter-of-factly by Janet.

But before Janet leaves, there is that knock at the door. We see a blurry image through a window of the man standing at the door—Simon (an unobtrusive Johnathan Sousa)—a polite man who has come to introduce himself as new to the neighbourhood and just wanted to say hello. He doesn’t come in, he just says hello. Janet is charmed. Marion is suspicious.

Arthur (Benedict Campbell) enters from in the house. He is told about Simon. Arthur seems almost timid in his behaviour. He lives there because it’s comfortable. He realized he was gay when he was married to Janet. He had an affair with a pediatrician who left him for someone else and he was so devastated.  Janet took him in. To add another wrinkle, Marion secretly loved (loves?) Arthur. They had one date and Marion fell in love with him. Arthur had eyes for Janet and eventually married her.

Each longs for something away from that house: peace, happiness, contentment? But they seem stuck. Until Simon arrives. Who is he? (During intermission a young man up my row said he believes Simon is a ‘Christ figure’). Is Simon like “The Gentleman Caller”—”That long delayed, but always expected something that we live for?” Is he the cat among the pigeons, set to agitate their peaceful existence? I don’t know, but there are changes afoot. Then he mysteriously disappears for whatever reason. Arthur, Janet and Marion do not know why or how. But it affects their lives and there is a shift.

Morris Panych’s dialogue is witty, articulate, introspective and impish. Often characters listen but don’t actually hear what is being said to them. So often they take things said to them at face value and misinterpret who is being talked about. Often we hear…”NO, the whippet!” when a character has misinterpreted who is being spoken too by a person in the park.

Panych has looked at people past middle age, examined how comfortable they are in their lives, and how unsettled they are as well; unsettled with change, life and disappointment. Arthur had to leave that house to take care of himself. Janet had to become the person being taken care of after years of being the one who cares for everybody. And Marion becomes a caregiver after years of sitting, watching and perhaps fretting.

The play is delicate, both huge and small in implications, very funny, quirky and human as only Morris Panych can make quirky human.

Director Jackie Maxwell adds her gentle, careful touch to guide the relationships of the three house-mates. One gets the sense of the simmering subtext among the three; the unhappiness and the complacency. The acting is superb. As Janet, Nancy Palk moves quickly establishing her busyness, her industry in getting things done, her responsibility of being the driving force in that house. Marion sits. Corine Koslo as Marion, watches and is on the edge of engagement. As Arthur, Benedict Campbell frets. He frets about his failed, disappointed relationships, his marriage, and lots more. His fretting makes him inert. Then Simon arrives and Jonathan Sousa as Simon, is charming, mysterious, friendly and perhaps even dangerous. One is wary of this young man. As if by magic, he changes the dynamic in that house.

Comment. Withrow Park—a play about senior citizens facing their demons. How modern and refreshing.

Tarragon Theatre Presents:

Opened: Nov. 15, 2023

I saw it: Nov. 18, 2023.

Plays until: Dec. 10 (extended)

Running time: 2 hours approx. (1 intermission)

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