Saturday, November 23, 2013


Pictured: Layne Coleman, Linda Griffiths

Special to TorSun
23 NOV 2013
R: 4/5

A man and a woman, once lovers, meet up at the wedding of a mutual friend and, later that evening, end up in her hotel room, where much booze and some illegal drugs are consumed. "Seen it," you are no doubt thinking as you fasten your seat belt for a voyage down a much-travelled road littered with recriminations and regrets for all the things that might have been. Or so you think.

But in her new play, HEAVEN ABOVE/HEAVEN BELOW, playwright-performer Linda Griffiths opts to take a road less travelled, introducing us to mature characters who are capable of wandering through their past without getting lost in it, regardless of what they ingest. After a health concern forced a delay last spring, HEAVEN ABOVE/HEAVEN BELOW opened this week in the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace in a production by TPM in association with Griffiths' Duchess Productions.

And there's a lovely synchronicity to it all, in view of the fact that the characters featured in this new play first saw the light of stage in Griffiths' The Darling Family: A Duet For Three, in which she starred back in 1991.

This new play is separated from the original by 20 years, and HE (played this time out by Layne Coleman) and SHE (Griffiths) have grown older, although initially, it is not clear how much they have matured, if at all. They arrive back at her hotel room — designer Kimberly Purtell transforms the small stage into a credible room in a boutique hostelry — armed with the dregs of a cheap bottle of wine, filched from the nuptial celebrations they have just attended.

The situation is obviously strained, but as the two indulge in some conversational thrust and parry, time starts to slip away and we begin to see the two characters who parted at the end of The Darling Family, having ended the pregnancy their brief romance had produced. She's now a journalist and a quite successful one, all things considered, while he's living in Britain, married, raising a four-year-old and writing for television.

Slowly, they reveal and examine the scars their union left, emboldened by booze, marijuana and cocaine, sometimes cautiously reading the ruins of their relationship and pouring over the past in the same way they once used I Ching to try to divine the future, at other times, tackling it all with alacrity. The repartee is both clever and cutting, and director Karen Hines quite wisely keeps things brisk, in an attempt to hide the fact that Coleman finally has been quite utterly miscast in the role of the urbane sophisticate to which his character pretends.

But Coleman's shortcomings notwithstanding, there is no denying these two work well together, and happily, when it comes to vulnerability, defiance and hard won wisdom, Griffiths proves capable of providing enough for two.

While it is not play to warm the hearts of the Calvinists in our midst, HEAVEN ABOVE/HEAVEN BELOW is a quietly hopeful evening of theatre that manages to put the past in the proper place. Behind us.

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