TOUCHING AND UPLIFTING
By David Lindsay-Abaire
Directed by Gaye Poole
presented by Carving in Ice
at Playhouse, Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts, Hamilton
From 6 Nov 2012 to 10 Nov 2012
Reviewed by Gail Pittaway, 8 Nov 2012
David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer Prize winning play brilliantly depicts a family group still in a state of crisis well after the traumatic events of the loss of a loved one.
A married couple, Howie and Becca, have grieved in such different ways over the accidental death of their very young son that they have become estranged from each other. Becca's grief imprisons her in ways that even her mother and sister consider odd; she does not weep but goes through motions in a meaningless orbit of chores and cannot break through the drone-like horror of her sadness.
This is not an easy play to watch and an even more difficult one to stage, yet the movement through the labyrinth of loss is ultimately inspiring.
Viv Aitken gives a tense, serious reading to this part, with convincing effect. Her emotional containment is palpable and the impact on those around her unavoidable.
Nick Clothier's Howie is warm, sincere, puzzled. Both have moments of emotional eruption they manage superbly. It's a dignified and focused piece of collaboration.
Despite the subject matter, however, there are unexpectedly funny moments between these two when flashes of their wit and intimacy flare up, or from their encounters with the two other important characters, sister Izzy and mother, Nat.
Fiona Sneyd is charmingly whimsical as Nat; illogical, given to random pronouncements and utterings on irrelevant subjects such as Kennedy family secrets, food and manners, reminding us that the play's original setting is in the USA. She too has lost a son, Arthur, although he was 30 and died of a drug overdose, unlike her grandson. Her insistence on having her own grief acknowledged is one of the recurring motifs of the dialogue: Becca wants to be the only person who has lost a loved one; the fact is, she is not.
One of the finest scenes in a production full of great moments, is when Becca and Nat tidy away the toys from Daniel's room. Whilst they are musing upon his children's books and some of the mad toys that will go into storage or to other homes, Nat explains how, even though the stone in the pocket that is grief doesn't go away and you always carry it, it becomes fine, okay.
The character on whom the plot turns is that of Becca's sister Izzy: bohemian, irreverent and messy but very much engaged with the world. She has formed a new relationship with an offstage character, Auggie, who sounds even more chaotic than she and the play opens with her gradually unfolding the tale of a violent encounter with Auggie's ex girlfriend just before revealing that she is now pregnant. Unafraid of confrontation, clearly, as she was dishing the violence in the earlier story, she challenges both Becca and Howie over their lifestyle, their conflicts and unresolved tensions.
Stephanie Christian's Izzy is so unrestrained that she is a great foil for Becca' tension and Howie's frustration. Christian, however, resists the temptation to make her ditzy and this performance, while achingly funny, is also nuanced with the sadness of Izzy's sense of inadequacy.
The character with whom the title and theme are revealed is the college student, Jason, whose driving had killed Danny. He tries to meet with Becca and Howie to apologise and talk about the tragedy and finally sends them a story he's written for school, about a boy who goes in search of his father who has died, through parallel universes, like rabbit holes, of which our own world is but one of many.
Philip Garrity is suitably awkward and gauche in this part and the scene when Becca finally arranges to meet him in secret is another stunning moment, with the image of hope in parallel worlds delivered by a boy who has ended hope in this one. Conor Maxwell is also sharing this role on several nights of the run.
Poole's set design exhibits her usual high standards with an open home displayed; a lounge, with working video recorder that Howie plays in secret to watch a gorgeous home movie of his young boy; the son's room complete with fancy lamp books and robot bedspread; and, most impressively, a proper kitchen bench and fridge (with delicious looking sweet treats such as crème caramel and lemon squares). The use of a standard lamp in the lounge lighting, too, is austere, aloof and stark. There is no elephant in this room, just a small green dinosaur tucked into the video cabinet.
With fine sensitive snatches of music, and moments in darkness at the end of each act, for the wiping away of tears, this is a touching and uplifting production, which I hope many will have to courage to get along to see.
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