Thursday, March 8, 2012

Review: (Toronto) The Small Room At The Top of The Stairs

Nicole Underhay (photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann)

The Killing Curiosity
Tarragon presents a GG winner's spook-fest
by Beat Rice

I can’t remember the last time I felt spooked when I was watching a play. Carole Fréchette’s play, translated by John Murrell, is one that builds in mystery and tension, until it falls apart near the end. But we will get to that later.
Last night, the English premiere of The Small Room at the Top of the Stairs opened in the Mainspace at the Tarragon Theatre. The brilliant Weyni Mengesha also makes her directing debut at the Tarragon. Collaborating with designer Astrid Jansen, the set is in one corner of the room with the audience in an ‘L’ shape. The set is minimalistic, but with Bonnie Beecher’s lighting, we see hallways, a narrow staircase, and a dark room. The staging is simple yet highly effective. Mengesha uses the space in a way that allows our imaginations to put things in place. Thomas Ryder Payne’s eerie sound design creates a horror movie like feel. 
...she is to never go into the room at the top of the stairs.

Grace is a sweet, recently married woman whose new husband Henry is incredibly rich. She seems to have the perfect life, the perfect man, and the perfect home. Henry gives her his giant house, with different themed rooms, to take over, but only sets one limitation: she is to never go into the room at the top of the stairs. The secret creates a burning curiosity and suspicion in her and she cannot resist the urge the open the door. When he goes away on a business trip the anticipation can be put on hold no longer, she goes into the room. What she finds shakes her to her core, and completely juxtaposes her seemingly perfect life. Nicole Underhay goes from happy bride to tormented victim seamlessly. 
The rest of the cast is a strong group of actors. Claire Calnan plays Grace’s sister, a sarcastic and sharp woman who leads a much simpler life than her sister. Their mother, who goes on and on about her little angel Grace, plays the role of the overbearing mother so well it becomes tiring after a while. Rick Roberts plays Henry with a creepy kind of charm. Raquel Duffy is the mysterious maid who appears around every corner. Together the ensemble helps tell Grace’s story.
Carole Fréchette builds the tension of the play up so well that it seems to fall apart after the climax. The big questions the play proposes are never clearly answered and are left open to interpretation, which is understandable, but still unsatisfying. It made me ask, where did it all go? The conclusion did not fit with the dramatic build-up which was disappointing.
The play is a thriller that will have you at the edge of your seat, and for that I would recommend it. 
Directed by Weyni Mengesha
By Carole Fréchette
The Small Room at the Top of the Stairs runs until April 8th at the Tarragon Theatre

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