Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Farther West

Matthew MacFadzean, Tara Nicodemo (photo by Cylla von Tiedemann)

Of Love/Obsession
by Beat Rice

Going farther west is the dream and solution to all of May Buchanan’s life. A prostitute since the age of 14, May travels across Canada and finds herself in Calgary, as a leader in a house with three other prostitutes.

John Murrell's Father West's story is one of passion, obsession, self-preservation. It bubbles up and explodes in the trio of May Buchanan (Tara Nicodemo), the Constable Seward (Dan Lett), and Thomas Shepard (Matthew MacFadzean).  Both men relentlessly yearn for her to the point of obsession.  Seward starts off as an officer of the law who pursues her in order to arrest her for immoral behaviour, but he is also trying to fight his desire for her. It is as though his conflict with her morality is battling with his inability to accept his desire for a whore, and it comes out as an obsessive ‘investigation’.

Shepard, who says he loves May and wants to marry her, also disapproves of her lifestyle and wants to take her away from it. I say that he claims to love her because I think love and obsession are two very different things. May is an independent woman who has a very clear idea of what she wants, and values her self-preservation. The position she currently holds is one of power: she calls the shots in her own life and is seen as a leader among her group of girls who also work in the trade. If she chooses to go with Tom Shepard she loses that position of control. All of the actors' intentions and motivations were clear albeit being complicated. These deeply layered and troubled characters are the driving forces of the play.

The three other women were a delight to watch, their characters being so different. Nettie (Christine Horne) is a more mature woman with a cynical side, Lily (Akosua Amo-Adem) is sensitive and soulful, and Violet (Kyra Harper) is young and spirited. The cast did a fine job as an ensemble of people with seemingly irrational behaviour, as a method of covering up what's really going on inside.
Music plays a large role in this production of Farther West. Paul Humphrey’s sound design and the folksy songs take us back to the late 1800’s. The set design incorporated the use of a painted scrim, a small rake, a pool, and a pebbly surface. Earth’s elements and imagery of Western Canada are very present in the room. It does not look like any real place but transforms into many settings we find in real life. It fits, and also juxtaposes Murrell’s play; there is no ‘magic’ written into the structure, no drama sequences, or inexplicable flashbacks, it is real, gritty, and does not hold back. Director Diana Leblanc understands this, and allows her actors to explore the full emotional scope, which peaks in the second act.

Farther West runs to November 9 

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