Monday, May 21, 2012


Special to TorSun
20 MAY 2012
R: 4/5

Pictured: Oliver Dennis, Michael Hanrahan

TORONTO - When it comes to defining them within the context of modern life, words like ‘home’ and ‘family’ have proved impressively adaptable, stretching themselves to embrace almost anyone’s personal interpretation of what they might be. In fact, the fluid nature of home and, to a lesser degree, of family (at least, in terms of the family of man), was something British playwright David Storey explored as long ago as 1970 in a quirky little comedy titled, appropriately enough, HOME. And now Storey’s play is making itself at home here in Toronto where it opened last week on the stage of the Young Centre in a new Soulpepper production, helmed by artistic director Albert Schultz.

With Soulpepper regulars Oliver Dennis (truly golden in his 50th Soulpepper turn) and Michael Hanrahan in the roles of Jack and Harry, famously played in the work’s première by British greats Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud respectively, it certainly begins well as the two meet on an elegant, if somewhat gone-to-seed terrace in an un-named park.

Under a cloud-strewn sky created by set and costume designer Ken MacKenzie and lighting designer Lorenzo Savoini, the two exchange banalities and, in the process, offer up clues to an upper middle class life as they discuss military service, mutual acquaintances, the demise of the walking stick and, of course, the “sceptred Isle” that is their home. And yet, the playwright implies with often subtle humour, all is not right in their world and we’re not just talking the decline of the British Empire that they periodically lament. That fact becomes increasingly evident when they abandon their conversation in favour of a stroll around the park.

In the process, they surrender their seats to the sunny Kathleen (Brenda Robins) and the stormy Marjorie (Maria Vacratsis), a pair of working-class drabs who are, it is quickly evident, a few fish and chips short of a full basket. Amongst the legion of problems their conversation reveals is Kathleen’s rather over-active libido, which means the when Jack and Harry return, the foursome is quickly fused into a sort of family of convenience. Not only do they look out for each other, they successfully fend off the incursion by Alfred (André Sills), another occasional denizen of their shared and increasingly claustrophobic territory  — a claustrophobia slowly revealed as something far less bucolic that it initially seems.

Of course, it’s all a metaphor for what passes for civilization in a nation, or perhaps a world, gone mad — a tale that still amuses even while it grows progressively darker and more disturbing. But while Schultz captures much of Storey’s dark whimsy in the early portions of the production, he is less successful as things get more and more complicated. Under his direction, the normally impressive Robins makes her entrance, badly wigged and shrieking like a refugee from a particularly rambunctious Carol Burnett sketch and sadly is rarely allowed to explore Kathleen’s humanity, her very obvious problems reduced to simple grist for the laugh mill.

Being Robins, she’s still a worthy foil to the three other finely drawn performances here, but, ultimately, it unsettles the balance of this delicate and more-than-slightly absurdist work and proves conclusively when you enter David Storey’s world, HOME can only be where the heart is.

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