This production from Fractual Theatre, starring Allan MacDonald as Manni Kuper and Wendi Smith as his wife Tori, explores the difficulties facing an aging Ottawa couple as Manni enters the first stages of dementia.
This production left me feeling unfulfilled and wishing it had done more to draw me into its world. It isn’t a matter of lacking polish, but rather that the particular polish applied here acted more like soot than lustre.
The play begins with a somewhat lengthy period of silent fussing “stage business” character development set to music. The actors’ gestures all felt telegraphed and unnaturally large: do you see me thinking about this brainteaser in my book? I’ll scrunch up my face a tad more, to make sure. This impression lingered throughout the performance and, when coupled with the delivery and substance of the lines, really prevented me from becoming invested in the story.
A large sign stage left that names each scene seems to anchor this demonstrative style. Just as the stylistic choices for the acting make little sense, I’m not sure what the audience gains from knowing the title of a particular scene, other than a brief moment of amusement as Smith changes cards with a gesture that seems to say “well, here you go.” This moment, repeated several times throughout the performance, is indicative of how hard the actors are trying to pull laughs from the script.
The script has the potential to be quite funny, but it is consistently delivered with a tone and pace anticipating (and spoiling) the humor. The “realist” bent of the production is broken by these choices that seem designed to convince me again and again that these are actors on a stage, rather than the humans in their living room they are striving to be.
The script, while having some humorous potential, falls short of inspiring the emotional connection it seems written to achieve. I wanted to sympathize with Manni’s plight, and that of his younger wife, but rather than tap into the emotional heart of the story of a man slowly losing his ability to interact with the world, the script meanders from joke to superficial joke. I can see this being a coping strategy for characters afraid of the future, but despite a few hints of some larger potential tragedy (in their discussion of what the surviving member of the couple will do with the other’s remains, for example), the production never deals with these issues in greater depth, leaving them profoundly unresolved.
For me, this production was a sort of perfect storm of decisions that broke my ability to suspend my disbelief. I want to say that it made up for these decisions by doing other things sufficiently well to keep me engaged, but in a production that doesn’t actively seek to engage the audience in a direct manner, and plays straight and hard for its laughs, this saps its lifeblood.