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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Heavy Mental - The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble - Play Review

The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble - Factory Theatre and Obsidian Theatre - Toronto, ON - ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by Beth Graham, Directed by Philip Akin
Runs until Dec. 1st, 2013


I often complain that too many plays seem to be based around white families with drinking or drug problems and while they definitely mine some dramatic classics out of it (Long Day's Journey Into Night, August: Osage County), it is getting a bit repetitive. Watching The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble, it dawned on me why the drinking and drug theme amongst a white family might be so popular, and not just as a default subject for a play. Perhaps there is a slight schadenfreude-ish nature to it, since watching Bernice Trimble, a play presented here by Obsidian Theatre in conjuction with Factory Theatre, a play about a black family dealing with their mother's deteriorating health issue, seems far more heartbreaking with its hopeless nature. Watching Bernice Trimble, the matriarch of the family, growing older and falling into her medical spells is scary and is easily recognizable to anyone who has dealt with elders in their family. Presented and written in such a realistic, matter-of-fact way brings it much closer to our own understanding, and it becomes a painful reminder of the infallible nature of our bodies and mind. While this production presents it happening to a black woman, it could really be any family of any colour or background. The play feels very Canadian, but quite universal.

                            

This is not to say drugs or drinking is funny or sympathetic, but whereas there might be hope in recovery, and sometimes played for laughs by white people in a play, Bernice Trimble is a heavy and saddening tale about the Trimble family, who happen to be black, and their hopeless fight against a deteriorating disease.

While the play is about an extremely depressing subject matter, Beth Graham's play manages to inject humour and light moments giving Bernice Trimble a needed balance to the weighty tale. There is a middle section where moments seem slightly stretched out, buying time and sympathy for the surrounding family before a third-act-reveal moves the play into its most devastating and interesting momentum. But at the heart of the story of Bernice Trimble, we still know little about Bernice herself, and the play spends a tad too much time in setting up the reveal. It however is the family and the cast that ground the play and make it as heartfelt as it is.

Karen Robinson (Stuff Happens) is Bernice Trimble and it is a heartbreaking performance of a woman experience early onset Alzheimers. Lucinda Davis (da Kink in my Hair) plays eldest daughter Sara, a non-stop talking new-mother who spreads her energy and voice in any room she's in. Both are great, and surround the middle child who becomes the centrepiece of the play as the narrator, and while the role is a bit too explanatory, it is encapsulated luminously by Alexis Gordon, who makes Iris Trimble, a nervous, fidgety, compassionate centre and caretaker to Bernice. Squaring off the family is newcomer Peyson Rock as youngest brother Peter, a quiet, introverted but soulful good son and Rock brings a soothing tone that adds some comic beats when placed against the hectic Sara or the intense darkness happening upon Bernice. Four beautiful performances of four very different characters of one family, on a stunning set by Camellia Koo.

The memory play about the loss of memory skills begins well with an engaging Gordon pulling us into her recount. While the play balances the tone quite well, with some light moments and comedic touches amongst a dark story, it could rebalance some of the moments with title character Bernice more in focus, including fleshing out more about Mr. Trimble. Still, the lovely cast pulls out the emotional punches of a loving family dealing with such a realistic bomb.

Photo by Joanna Akyol
Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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