A Blow In The Face has everything you need for a great show except a script
A BLOW IN THE FACE by Lisa Ryder (Bald Ego/Nightwood). At the Theatre Centre (1115 Queen West). Runs to April.
A BLOW IN THE FACE by Lisa Ryder (Bald Ego/Nightwood). At the Theatre Centre (1115 Queen West). Runs to April 14. $35, stu/srs $25. nightwoodtheatre.net. See listing. Rating: NNN
Its a topic that needs airing: postpartum depression, the experience of deep distress at a time that everyone assumes is joyous. And in the case of A Blow In The Face, its being addressed by accomplished writer Lisa Ryder with the help of a highly skilled cast and crew.
And yet it just misses.
The play opens with a tableau featuring Alice (Tess Degenstein) holding her baby Cooper, on the precipice of… something. Then were in her home with her husband Guy (Jordan Pettle), whos heading out of town for a business trip. The roofs sprung a leak and Guy urges Alice plainly overwhelmed with everything (fear shes a bad mother, sleep deprivation, general panic) to deal with it. Then hes gone.
What follows is an intense extended hallucination in which roofers Cloudy (Ryder) and Fluff (Selina Martin, who helped create the characters with Ryder) enter the scene. But why arent they attending to the roof? And why are they so obsessed with Cooper?
They tease and provoke Alice, all the while dropping hints that they may be a couple who drowned their own child, and that Alice ought to consider doing the same. The title of the play refers to the mammalian diving reflex, and the notion that if you blow in a babys face before putting it under water, it will hold its breath.
Will Alice be tempted?
All this plays out on director, choreographer and designer Monica Dottors beautiful set, made especially lovely with cloud constructions (Taylor Young provided assistance constructing these), which appear to hang from trees. All the actors handle the dialogue and Dottors choreography which often comes out of nowhere and heightens the hallucinatory effect superbly.
But all this fails to create a proper atmosphere of dread. As a writer, Ryder (Baggage, Put Me Away) has always found a way to deftly bring comedy to difficult subjects. But here especially in the characterization of Guy, whos more of a dick than the play requires the comedy often gets in the way.
Theres a lot of yelling and anger which is an element of depression, for sure but precious few quieter, down moments. A gorgeous sequence in which Alice, Cloudy and Fluff (Martin displaying beautiful singing chops here) rock Cooper to sleep gives the show some texture, but it could use more.
Which is too bad, because theres tons of charisma and talent up on that stage.