Wednesday, December 18, 2013

THE VALLEY and the Delights of the Holiday Season

Sunday was a two-show day.  It began as I scrambled into a taxi at 9:15 am to make my god-daughter's Christmas pageant at her family church.  Her mother is a very talented writer for screen and television and wrote the script for this stage outing: a very endearing re-telling of the Christmas story, giving the inn-keepers a major role.

There were angels in tinsel and cardboard wings, a kid dressed as a sheep and a Cabbage-Patch baby Jesus. My god-daughter delivered the "tidings of great joy" standing on a chair and wearing a golden star and tinsel garland halo. The whole exercise was followed by carols, dainties, those mini-sandwiches I so adore, clementines and a toboggan run down-hill behind the church.  There was a brief moment where I thought my time on earth was going to end careening into the side of a Lutheran church on a sheet of plastic but we managed to avert catastrophe and dumped over into a snowbank. Yes, boys and girls, it's Christmas Time once more.

The serious plays are coming to an end for the fall half of the theatre season, giving way to parties and pantomimes and pageants and ballets with dancing bears. Before I trot off, shortbread in hand, to several weeks of family friendly seasonal delights, I went and got one last good dose of serious drama.

I hit the TARRAGON for the closing matinee of  THE VALLEY.

Two very different families, both struggling with mental illness, collide through a happenstance on the Vancouver Sky Train.

Any deep relationship tests your human capacity for unconditional love.  A relationship with a mentally ill family member, lover or friend can take you to the edge of your own sanity.

The marriage between Daniel, the cop ( Ian Lake) and his post-postpartum depressed wife,  Janie ( Michelle Monteith), desperate to escape the house and the suffocating demands of a colicky baby was really well drawn. So was the relationship between the anxious,over-functioning, divorced, obsessional mom Sharon, (Susan Coyne) and her collapsing mess of a resentful, angry, brilliant, struggling, depressed son, Conner (Colin Mercer).

THE VALLEY was well-written by Joan MacLeod, well-directed by Richard Rose and  uniformly well-acted with great work from all four performers. Placing the audience on either side of the pit of a stage was a terrific choice.  This was thoughtful theatre with an up-to-the minute subject.

I was very glad to see a realistic depiction of what life is like for families coping with mentally ill family members. I think plays like McLeod's and the discussions that follow help eradicate the stigma that still exists around mental illness. That is a good and very necessary thing if mentally ill people are going to get help.

The upbeat ending was a little hard for me to take.

The therapies currently available for depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder manage the symptoms and give sufferers and their families and loved ones better coping skills.With luck, patients go into remission.  If the drugs don't work and this happens more often than Big Pharma would like you to think, patients commit suicide. This has happened to people I know..

Mental illness can be managed:  it can't, at present, be cured.  I hope the money raised for CAMH by the TARRAGON helps change that fact.

There's two weeks left in the year and I have seen all the gloom and doom I can stand.  It's time to go get jolly!

Last night, I went to "MORRO and JASP: Eat Your Heart Out." the launch of a cookbook by the delightful and intrepid DORA-award-winning clown duo. Food made from the recipes was on offer and it was delicious.  I plan to try out some of the recipes on my holiday guests. The cookbook is available for those of you who are looking for a last minute holiday gift.

I'm going to go AWOL for a while while I bake and decorate and develop some shortbread muscles. If the weather holds, there may even be more toboggan runs!  May your holiday celebrations be joyous and may your New Year be blessed in every way. I'll be back in 2014 ( if not before)!

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