Friday, February 22, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Hannah Moscovitch Double Bill

Little One with Joe Cobden and Michelle Monteith (photo: Nir Baraket)

joel fishbane

Hannah Moscovitch continues to prove why she’s one of Canada’s most produced playwrights with a pair of contemporary one-acts now playing at Tarragon Theatre. The effect the children of others have on our lives is the theme of both Little One and, appropriately, Other People’s Children, two sharp pieces of writing that are well served by stylish productions. Best of all, each show features different casts that are perfectly suited to the work they have been given.

Of the two plays, Little One is the clear champion, an eerie thriller that proves horror can work in the theatre when it’s in the right hands. Aaron (Joe Cobden) recounts his childhood with his abusive adopted sister Claire (Michelle Monteith), a girl he describes as a monster. Cobden is pitch-perfect in the role, his laconic demeanour making us sympathize with him even as his behaviour becomes less sympathetic. Full disclosure here: I went to school with Cobden and have long been a fan of his work. Here, it seems as if he was made for the role, smoothly transforming from the modern day, affable Aaron into his moody teenage counterpart. 

The lights stay dim, there’s a fog in the room and a haunting  soundtrack plays at all times (provided by an onstage Kaylie Lau).

Monteith is equally splendid as the rabid dog with a broken leg: she invokes our pity even though we know at any moment she might bite. There’s an exquisite tension in this play as we never quite know what Monteith is going to build to next, and the creepy mood only increases as Aaron’s story builds to its climax. All of this is helped by Natasha Mytnowych’s impressive direction. The lights stay dim, there’s a fog in the room and a haunting soundtrack plays at all times (provided by an onstage Kaylie Lau). All of this gives Little One the feel of a ghost story told at a campfire, one whose final moments leave the audience stunned as the lights are extinguished for the final time.

It’s quite literally a tough act to follow and one has to credit Other People’s Children for giving it the old college try. Affluent duo Ilana and Ben (Niki Landau and Gray Powell) import a Sri Lankan nanny (Elisa Moolecherry) to take care of their newborn, but her arrival soon unmasks the secrets at the heart of their marriage.  There’s a lot of tense moments and actors glaring at each other between the lines, but for me the slow burn didn’t quite pay off. The play builds to a pop rather than an explosion and while the writing always crackles, I couldn’t help wishing Moscovitch had taken her trio in a much different direction.

Nonetheless, Paul Lampert’s direction is clever, splitting the set into two so there is a clear delineation between the couple’s world and that of their hired help. He also creates stylized movements between scenes that clearly set up Ilana and Ben’s well-ordered world, which of course breaks apart as the nanny infiltrates their lives. Niki Landau excels as Ilana, who sits at the heart of this play, grappling with both the less romantic side of motherhood and a husband she can’t exactly trust. Landau manages to be acerbic, kind, forgiving and vengeful, sometimes in a single line; as with Cobden, this is another case of playwright and actor whose artistic souls are walking hand in hand. 

In the end, this double bill represents a night at the theatre by a collection of artists clearly at the top of their game. But the true star is Moscovitch herself who, since her debut in 2005, has proven time and again that she’s more then just a flash in the pan. She’s part of our artistic legacy now; get out to Tarragon before March 24th and you’ll see why. 

Side note: Little One runs until March 17, at which point it will be replaced by In this World, another Moscovitch play being directed by my good friend Andrew Lamb.   

Little One, Other People’s Children and In this World by Hannah Moscovitch runs at Tarragon Theatre until March 24th. For tickets visit 

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