Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Review: (Vancouver) Leave of Absence

Lucia Frangione and Tom McBeath (photo credit: Ron Reed)
Great cast and heartfelt writing
Lesbians and the Bible
by David C. Jones
This show is so heartfelt and presented with such integrity there is an audience for it and it even has the potential to expand some minds. Others might find it a little melodramatic or even uninvolving but there is humour and sadness to carry you through.

Leave of Absence is about a teenager who has been raised by a religious single parent. A thoughtful priest, a blunt but affable neighbour and a progressive (she is into female Christian mystics) but limited Catholic school principal surround her, which is a good thing because she is about to discover her Lesbian feelings, oh, and God is talking to her and “She” approves.

While they debate what to do, young Blake’s world is closing in on her. 

Lucia Frangione, one of the most celebrated writers in Vancouver, deservedly so,  is very witty - with a touch of absurd - and so empathetic and loving. She was moved to write this play (already published by Talon Books) because she has been directly affected by bullying. She is also a devout person who doesn't shy away from sexuality and she sees and has experienced bullying that was physical and emotional as well as spiritual.

Almost worse than being an oppressor is being an uninvolved or passive observer. Leave of Absence has four adults all from different perspectives of religious belief. While they debate what to do, young Blake’s world is closing in on her. 

The cast is strong and they bring depth and heart to their roles. Craig Erickson as the Slavic widower is strong and funny with a thick accent. “I know the gays like me because I look like a God and I smell like soap.” Ms. Frangione plays Mom, with spark and a hominess that makes you wish she were your Mom. Worrying about romantic life for her Gay daughter she exclaims “She’s only got 10% of the population to choose from, we have had 90% and it’s been a disaster.”

The amazing Tom Mcbeath plays the weary but defiant priest as only he can. Marie Russell is the flustered and righteous principal who would rather remove our protagonist from the school than the bullies.

As young Blake, Karyn Guenther brings a detached sullenness mixed with a divine if quiet hopefulness. On opening night she was quite intriguing but could afford to let the shock of being almost brutalized - after hiding out for hours to avoid such a thing -  to rattle her a bit more. The bounce-back was too easy given the circumstances.

That also is one of the small challenges of the play. The playwright wants to focus on the adults who debate and ultimately do too little in young Blake’s case. The object of Blake’s affection and her antagonists are all off stage and unseen.

The conversations about Church teachings and failings in regards to protecting and supporting Queer youth are valid but not as gripping as the sensational (sex and violence) stuff we can’t see.
Queer audience members may take some of the ideas as givens -  ‘well of course they need to support and protect that girl regardless what the Bible says’ but for others this story will be intriguing and an eye opening experience.

A handsome set by Drew Facey and effective light and sound by Lauchlin Johnston and Jeff Tymoschuk and good costuming by Sydney Cavanagh make the production look and feel great.
Director Morris Ertman keeps the multiple story threads and overlapping scenes moving along

Bravo to Pacific Theatre and artistic director Ron Reed for championing new Canadian works and thank you Ms Frangione for tackling this important subject matter. I hope it affects change.

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