By JON KAPLAN
Michel Tremblay's autobiographical For The Pleasure Of Seeing Her Again is the playwright's love letter to his mother, a strong-willed woman who inspired Tremblay's imagination and a love of language.
In a series of scenes we watch the Narrator (Paul Hardy) grow from a 10-year-old to a young man in 50s Montreal. He, though, is usually in the background, as we focus on Nana (Darlene Spencer), the larger-than-life figure who berates and soothes him (more the former than the latter). Along the way she recounts family stories for the umpteenth time, reveals a love of romantic fiction and offers the occasional philosophic musing.
The play has some fine writing and more than a few laughs, but under Lee Poulin's direction, Spencer doesn't give Nana the proper depth. Yes, sometimes the character seems to spill beyond the boundary of the stage, but there's a subtlety as well, a suggestion that there's something beneath the melodrama and the overstatement.
Too often in the early scenes Spencer strikes a strident note and doesn't let go; the result can be exhausting for the viewer. Even in the play's last few scenes, where Nana's vulnerability and a touch of tenderness become apparent, Spencer rarely touches the heart.
There's more variety in Hardy's performance, and the opening and closing monologues allow him a chance to glow with the warmth of maternal memories. It's he who tells us that Nana never tackles things directly, that a flood of words cover the truths she doesn't make explicit. Fair enough that the character tells us, but he should merely be confirming what we've already figured out by watching the woman, and that's not the case here.
Some of the problems at the production's end are swept away by Marysia Bucholc's design, which until then has been resolutely (and rightly) utilitarian and commonplace -- table and chairs, a clothesline. But Tremblay asks for theatrical magic in the final scene, and Bucholc supplies it in a surprising fashion in the Alumnae Theatre's tiny Studio Theatre. Wish the rest of the show were as exciting as its last few minutes.
For The Pleasure Of Seeing Her Again runs until December 1. See theatre listings for details.