Immediately striking was Amy Keith’s beautiful set of On this Day (by Alexandra Haber, dir. Alain Goulem). The horizon of trees and cottages reflected at the end of day in the waters of a lake and a blue sky giving us its magic hour silhouette. Three actors start by sitting on a kind of cliff apparently waiting for Grace, a young girl subtly played by Emelia Hellman, to be seen at an E.R. The couple with her, Leni Parker as Sarah and Carlo Mestroni as Henry have possibly hit the young woman with their car, while on their way to Sarah’s birthday party. This is a really great premise.
We then shift to the dining room and kitchen of another couple, Celia, and Clive, who have decided to live off the grid and decrease their “carbon footprint”. Celia, who is given a perfectly calibrated performance by Stefanie Buxton has discovered that she is mightily bored with country living, caring for small children, and pretending to care about the planet. In spite of Clive’s obvious devotion to her and love for his “principles” she is on the verge of taking off for the nearest city for a decadent life of malls and restaurants, and even good private schools.
The first couple is tense and unhappy because of Henry’s infidelity and Sarah’s inability to free herself from her hopeless desire for this perfidious man. Only poor young Grace has a real back story. The other persona all seem like character sketches made of clichés. There are some delightful “zingers” and one liners, but generally the dialogue is predictable or dull or rattled off so fast that one cannot make out the words. The direction was uneven and the actors took this as a licence to speed through much of the dinner scene. The blocking was awkward and not one of the actors sat on a downstage chair. The “last supper” configuration just didn’t work.
It was a play about contemporary couples, a real “kitchen sink” drama without the passion. There was no indication of what kind of work Sarah did, and no hint of Henry’s job. While Leni Parker could hold my attention reading a phone book, Mestroni didn’t have the suave moves or the appearance of someone who could hold her attention, let alone that of a nineteen year old. His creepy fondling of Grace was just that, but why she did not slap him, was one of the play’s mysteries.
It was hard for anyone with a serious life to identify with two such bourgeois couples and their angst about relationships and the provenance of red wine. For such a play to be interesting it needed to have more at stake. When Henry finally chose to leave we felt relief for Sarah. What little sympathy one may have felt for poor little Grace was compromised by her moves on Clive, which were rather beyond comprehension.
One wanted to love this play, by a local woman playwright and directed by her dynamic partner. But it needed some serious re-thinking and more experienced direction to make it actually work. This kind of domestic drama was much better achieved by God of Carnage and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
On this Day is at The Centaur Theatre (453 St. Francois Xavier) until March 6, Tuesdays-Sundays. $50. Click HERE for tickets.