Family ties that bind

DREARY AND IZZY by Tara Beagan (Native Earth/Factory). Runs to December 18. See Continuing Theatre Listings. Rating: NNNN

Rating: NNNN

If you want to see how a gifted playwright stages strong emotions, you can find no better example than Dreary And Izzy , Tara Beagan ‘s heartfelt look at a family affected by fetal alcohol damage.

Set in the home of Deirdre ( Lesley Faulkner ) and her native adopted sister Isabelle ( Michaela Washburn ) – the audience, feeling like household visitors, sits on either side of Camellia Koo ‘s set – the play explores the difficult days following an accident that has made orphans of the two sisters.

The impetuous, manipulative Izzy, effectively a child in a young woman’s body because of her pregnant mother’s drinking, can’t grasp the loss and relies even more heavily on Deirdre for daily support. Deirdre knows that she’ll have to put her own life on hold to care for the sibling who’s also her closest friend she feels overwhelmed by and sometimes angry at what she must do.

Both are innocents with few social skills since neither has a well-developed internal censor, verbalizing their feelings can get them into trouble.

Enter Freddie Seven Horses ( Ryan Cunningham ), a vacuum-cleaner salesman who’s drawn to both sisters in different ways. His interest is returned, but not in the way he expects.

Beagan follows up the success of the Dora-winning Thy Neighbour’s Wife with another powerful piece of writing, capturing real feelings with remarkable brevity. Though there are moments when the script gets moralistic, that preachiness emerges from character rather than as the author’s message.

She doesn’t shy away from the comedy of the central situation either. The sisters, especially Deirdre, sometimes have to make fun of what’s happening in order to move on. Some situations are better endured with a smile, albeit a grim one, than with tears or rage.

Director Ruth Madoc-Jones has drawn powerful performances from the cast. Washburn and Faulkner reveal the neediness, warmth, anger, frustration and love between the sisters. Cunningham’s Freddie has real sweetness and charm along with a touch of caring shyness, while Sharon Bakker ‘s neighbourly Mrs. Harper, with her narrow views and reliance on stereotypes, tips the action toward tragedy.

Bookending the show are a pair of masterful monologues, one in which the Isabelle-who-might-have-been looks at the world cogently, and the other in which Deirdre sees the tragic pattern she’s unwittingly helped continue. Washburn and Faulkner deliver them splendidly, in the process unveiling their characters’ hearts.

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