Tapeworthy

Monday, November 18, 2013

Highs of Lows - The Valley - Play Review

The Valley - Tarragon Theatre - Toronto, ON - **** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Joan MacLeod, Directed by Richard Rose
Runs until Dec. 15th 2013

                         

When we expect our police to protect us, what do we actually mean? When someone is depressed or has a mental illness, what is our responsibility to them? Joan MacLeod's new play The Valley delves into these two simple-sounding-but-weighty questions when two families collide by chance on the Skytrain one night in Vancouver.

Dan (Ian Lake, This Is War), a Vancouver policeman, and wife Janie (Michelle Monteith) are new parents and while Dan is off at work, Janie struggles with being herself in motherhood. Up in the hills, single mother Sharron (Susan Coyle) dotes on grown loner son Connor as he goes to university in Calgary for his first semester. When Connor (Colin Mercer) returns at Thanksgiving, he is a shell of a man and Sharron has no idea how to deal with her son's newfound situation. With Connor remaining in Vancouver, he eventually finds a job, but an encounter with policeman Dan on his commute home changes the paths of both these families.

                         

The play is a fascinating set up that raises some fascinating questions about mental health, depression, our role(s) and responsibility towards someone with mental illness, and how our encounters with the police can be affected by it all. They are two huge issues to cover and while the melding of the two creates a great premise, the play understandably only scratches the surface as it tries to keep its focus on these four particular characters.

The cast is wonderful, with Colin Mercer managing to keep our empathy while his Connor tunnels into a dark despair that is frustrating for all those around him. Mercer's performance feels honest and grounded despite the different levels he must vary through the play. Ian Lake is a great anchor as the police officer, trying to keep things straight at home just as he's about to encounter Connor on that fateful night. Michelle Monteith has a inviting presence that lets us into her Janie's struggle and slow devolvement and only wish we got to dig even deeper into Janie's world (as much of the first act felt like Janie-as-seen-through-husband Dan's eyes). Susan Coyle has a innate sensitivity and grace that at times holds her back from truly showing the frustration her Sharron might be struggling with in understanding Connor, but it adds a warmth to the relationship that could have been played simply as dramatic tension.

Richard Rose's direction, putting the audience on both sides of the stage, and keeping the lights just bright enough that a self-awareness of the audience as a community watching, is a smart way to add another layer to the play. The four "stations" in the set, a bed, a dining table, a couch, and desk, most that double as multiple locations, keeps the fluidity between the two stories, with a grey circle at the centre of the stage marking the spot when the stories come together. Beautifully staged and mostly well paced, there are no deep valleys in the production of The Valley.


Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann
Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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