THE GRAVITATIONAL PULL OF BERNICE TRIMBLE
JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
08 NOV 2013
Theatre is built on trust: the trust a playwright places in actors who ultimately bring a play to life; the trust a playwright, director and actor place in a willing audience, that we will suspend disbelief and share their voyage; the trust an audience places in the play itself, a commitment to a shared voyage to someplace better, deeper, wiser, richer.
Ironically, though issues of trust sit at the very heart of Beth Graham's THE GRAVITATIONAL PULL OF BERNICE TRIMBLE, it is evident in the 90-plus minute production, co-produced by Obsidian and Factory Theatres, on the Factory mainstage, that the playwright doesn't trust anyone very much. Right from the top, there's the feeling the playwright wants to push us, rather than lead us through her tale of the title character's fight with early on-set Alzheimer's, as seen through the eyes of one of her three children.
Finally, when the playwright sets up a code to tell us whether we are in Bernice's kitchen or the kitchen of her daughter Iris, played by Alexis Gordon, the two locales in which the action is set, it's crystal clear she thinks we're not too bright.
And just as you are thinking "It's not that complicated," it dawns on you that for the most part, the entire play is concerned not with showing us what is going on in each of the character's minds, but with telling us, as Graham doesn't trust her cast with that task. Finally, Graham's belief that we aren't smart enough nor her cast good enough to take us where she wants us to be turns the whole thing into an illuminated monologue better read than performed. And that's a pity, for in examining a proud woman's struggle to regain some sort of control over a life spinning ever more out of her own control, Graham raises issues not only thought-provoking but timely as well, Sadly, we have too much time to contemplate them, for the playwright's faulty dramatic structure brings us to the end of the play long before her characters arrive, leaving us plenty of time to think.
Faced with a play in which three of the characters exist only in the mind of the fourth, director Philip Akin does respectable work, drawing solid, if limited performances, from Karen Robinson as the tragic Bernice, Lucinda Davis as her daughter Sara and Peyson Rock as her son Peter. Despite Akin's best efforts, they all end up simply lined-up in support of the playwright's party line, with none of the shading that makes for memorable theatre.
In the role of narrator, Iris, Gordon spends so much time telling us what she is feeling that any attempt to inhabit those feelings becomes redundant. Her tentative, trembling need for approval grows a little wearisome. Still, many, I suspect, will support Graham's point of view, while as many will no doubt reject it — but, trust me, this is not a play that will advance public debate.