Saturday, April 14, 2012

Review: (Ottawa) Communion

Stephanie MacDonald and Jenny Munday. Photo by Janet MacLellan.

The Beauty of Simplicity
MacIvor conquers at NAC
By Jim Murchison

The play starts in a therapist’s office while it rains. The rain effect is evoked by Ingrid Risk and Leigh Ann Vardy's lighting playing on the backdrop of Victoria Marston's wonderfully minimalist set. The way the light splashes on the frosted backdrop looks a little bit like the aurora borealis. This opening image is a fitting parallel of the way I feel about this Daniel MacIvor play. It is at once simple and direct, yet layered with subtle nuance and profoundly beautiful.

Even the costuming by Janet MacLellan represents two stages of a person's journey. The first time we meet each one of three women they are wearing their appropriate costume: cancer patient for one woman, therapist for another and  religious zealot for the third. The next time we meet them they are basically in their civvies and freer to love, doubt or cry as the case need be.

Stephanie MacDonald as Annie has one of the most beautiful performances seen on an Ottawa stage this year.

Linda Moore has directed a play that is not afraid to breathe in its silent moments. The opening scene is an acting lesson in the power of the pregnant pause. Moore's respect for these characters and their story, coupled with her skill in trusting the cast to tell it honestly in their own way is a major reason the play succeeds so admirably.

It also has three terrific performances. Kathryn Maclellan plays the therapist Carolyn as a stoic ice princess wrestling with her resolve to remain impartial and professional. She ultimately allows us to discover her dissatisfaction and reveals her off duty self to us as a genuinely caring person frustrated with the restrictions of her duty.

Jenny Munday plays cancer victim Leda with a growling, sardonic anger that had the audience laughing loudly at her witty observations and her blunt frankness. Later her bitterness is softened by an innate understanding of her anger towards herself and Munday plays the transition to self resignation and acceptance without losing any of the character’s presence or power.

Stephanie MacDonald as Annie has one of the most beautiful performances seen on an Ottawa stage this year. She transitions from a religious fanatic to a grieving daughter riddled with doubt and desperate for answers in an incredibly moving performance. She is so genuine that it makes you ache for her.

There is an honesty and grace to this production that extends itself even to the set changes, richly scored by Sandy Moore to hold the mood in place between scenes. Communion doesn’t seek to answer questions as much as to provoke them and allow you to take home your thoughts. This production can be applauded for allowing MacIvor’s rich subtext to speak equally with his well crafted text.

Communion is at NAC to April 21

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