THEATRE REVIEW: THIS
JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
24 MARCH 2013
In the quest for minimalist theatre perfection, Canadian Stage's Matthew Jocelyn seems to think it all comes down to this. Or, more precisely, THIS — a contemporary one-act dramatic comedy (or "un-romantic comedy" as it is styled in press notes) by Canadian-born, New York-based playwright Melissa James Gibson. This opened under Jocelyn's direction in the Berkeley Street Theatre Thursday.
And in fairness, THIS is pretty good stuff — filled with witty, bordering on brittle, dialogue as it holds a magic mirror to modern life to show us a reflection that is probably more flattering, certainly more compassionate, than we deserve.
It's the story of four 30-somethings who have been friends since college, each of whom seems to be in the throes of a uniquely personal mid-life crisis. Jane (Laura Condlln) is about to celebrate her first anniversary as a widow, while Tom (Jonathon Young), a carpenter, and Marrell (Yanna McIntosh), a jazz singer, find parenthood an awkward fit. Alan (Alon Nashman), meanwhile, may have turned his photographic memory into a professional parlour trick, but as the gay man in the group, he's growing tired of being odd man out.
As THIS commences, this quartet is soldiering on, despite individual discontents, but the arrival of catalyst Jean-Pierre (Christian Laurin), a suave member of Doctors Without Borders, causes a tectonic shift in personal boundaries. Alliances are redrawn and the very fabric of their friendships are altered as they retrench for the life after THIS.
It's not earth-moving stuff, but it has a lot of conventional charm, particularly as it affords an opportunity to see artistic chameleons like McIntosh and Nashman strut their stuff. And with these two in top form, Jocelyn also manages to get the most from the rest of his cast, in the process proving himself seemingly more at home in the more intimate confines of this space than he has ever been on the more cavernous Bluma Appel stage.
All of which leaves one wondering why he has chosen, in concert with designer Astrid Janson, to give an essentially conventional play such an unconventional staging, stripping the theatre to its bare walls and moving seating from the balcony to a corner of the staging area to create a sort of diagonal thrust that blends players and audience in an inseparable landscape that, like Jean-Pierre's work, seems to have no borders.
It's an effective metaphor, as far as it goes, but it is also a perpetual reminder that we are in the theatre, sharing the space and the story with others — a sort of one-up on the more conventional black box, which sought to create a canvas for individual imaginations by offering a blank screen and licence to project. It could be an interesting bit of artifice for the right vehicle — but frankly, for my taste, THIS is not that vehicle, and it is a testament to the strength of story teller and the cast that all THIS comes together in the end.