Sunday, September 23, 2012

Between The Sheets: new play on a hot topic opens Nightwood's fall season

First off, I want to apologize for my absence these past few weeks.  My holiday this summer did not, as it often does, include a sojourn at one of the major theatre festivals.   I saw stars and mountains and butterflies and Montreal cafes.  I saw my sisters and few dear old friends and had long, in-depth, catch-up conversations. I went midnight skinny-dipping in a bath-tub warm pool.  I ate a lot of great dinners and saw some beautiful Quebec countryside but I saw no films and no theatre.

Then I came back here to a few fairly grueling but extremely productive weeks at work.

While I was in the midst of that, the film festival flew past and the fall theatre season began in Toronto. I needed a fix. Today I zipped off to the Tarragon to catch Nightwood Theatre's season opener at the Backspace, a two hander called "Between The Sheets" by first-time playwright and recent National Theatre School graduate Jordi Mand.

Spoiler alert:  below there are some plot details, though nothing about the great twist of an ending.

Two women, a high-powered parent in her late 40s, and a pretty, organized and almost stupidly confident grade three teacher in her late 20s have an unscheduled meeting in a classroom after-hours on parent-teacher interview night.

This mom isn't there to interview the teacher about her son's progress in school: at least, not only to interview the teacher about her relationship with her son. She is there to confront  her son's teacher with evidence she has unearthed suggesting that the teacher's relationship with her husband, the student's father, is more than professional.

It's a brilliant premise that just churns out conflict. Sex, power, money, home-wrecking, kids and how to raise them are all on the table in this one hour drama.  While the script is better in some places than it is in others, there are two great actresses onstage to make a meal of a high-stakes confrontation loaded with controversy and they do.

Susan Coyne is quite possibly my favourite actress in the country. I'd watch her read a phone book.  Her intelligence and the depth of her skill and craft shine in everything I have ever seen her do. In this she is four steps past fabulous as Marion, the high-powered executive and harried parent of a difficult child, struggling to hang onto her long marriage to a depressed slacker of a husband.   Sporting slick black boots and a steely power suit, she's like a lioness with a kill in that cage of a classroom as she paces and grills her adversary.

Christine Horne does a fine job of making Teresa,  an idealistic and self-righteous prig of a school-teacher into a compelling and sympathetic character.  It's to her credit that the twist ending holds the resonance it does.

The play is well-directed and the realistic setting works well with the story. In this school, everyone learns a lesson.

I didn't love the musical underscore at the beginning of the action.  Under the blackout, it might have been a mood-setting device but placed where it was I felt as if the director was trying to tell me how to feel off the hop, never a good thing.  The script sags in a few places and strains credulity in a few others, but on the whole it's a very fine first effort:  thought-provoking and mostly well-constructed.

Whether you're in the 20-something camp or with the middle-aged women living with or divorced from Mister mid-life crisis, you'll certainly have plenty to discuss in the bar after the show. It is probably not your best bet for a first date.

This is absolutely worth seeing for the script's spirited look at a tough subject and two terrific performances.

Next week:  CLEOPATRA and hopefully, Michael Healey's new and controversial play, PROUD.