Preview: Harper Regan

HARPER REGAN by Simon Stephens, directed by Matthew Jocelyn, with Molly Parker, Vivien Endicott-Douglas, Lynne Griffin, Hardee T. Lineham, Alex.

HARPER REGAN by Simon Stephens, directed by Matthew Jocelyn, with Molly Parker, Vivien Endicott-Douglas, Lynne Griffin, Hardee T. Lineham, Alex Poch-Goldin, Philip Riccio and Izaak Smith. Presented by Canadian Stage at the Bluma Appel (27 Front East). Opens Thursday (March 5) and runs to March 22, Tuesday-Thursday and Saturday 8 pm, Friday 7 pm, matinees Saturday and Sunday 1 pm. $30-$99. 416-368-3110,

Harper Regan, the title character in Simon Stephens’s play, goes through what might be considered a mid-life crisis.

When she learns that her father is dying, Harper leaves her husband and daughter without a word about where she’s going, jeopardizing her relationship with her family and her boss.

But there are deeper things going on here, says Lynne Griffin, who plays Harper’s mother, Alison.

“We’re approaching the work as one woman’s quest to find the truth, to exorcise the demons and confusions she’s had to face,” says the thoughtful actor on a rehearsal break.

“And there’s a family curse at work here, too, which suggests Greek tragedy. Harper has taken on the challenge to find what really happened in her past, though until now there’s been an awful lot of denial about the truth.”

The script is mostly a series of two-handers in which Harper, played by Molly Parker, interacts with family members and a series of men, including a school-age boy she meets by a canal, a guy in a bar and someone she contacts through the internet.

Greek myth infiltrated the rehearsal process, too director Matthew Jocelyn sometimes asked the actors to think of their characters in terms of classic figures.

“I guess at some level I’m Clytemnestra, trying to reconnect with my daughter,” smiles Griffin, whose career includes leads in Theatre Plus and more recently, lots of indie theatre around town, including the Storefront and Red Sandcastle, often with her husband, actor Sean Sullivan.

“Tobias, the boy at the canal, is an Adonis figure for Harper.

“All this Greek material ties into the family curse, which seems revisited on every generation of Harper’s extended family. Is her husband a version of her sick father, and has she married him looking for an easy and comfortable life she doesn’t find?”

It’s quite a cinematic script, admits Griffin, with a lot of subtext the characters don’t speak. What is spoken, in fact, at first seems to be quite trivial.

“We’ve been talking about deconstructing banality, and while initially I said, ‘What?!’ the dialogue has an everyday quality that’s enriched by the subtext. What these people don’t say is massive, and they’re eventually able to start chipping away at that unspoken, huge darkness under the surface.

“If the audience really listens and watches, they’ll pick up on something that makes this or that happen or creates that confusion or that reaction. They’ll catch those important moments that the family is ignoring denial is the elephant in the room for Harper and those around her.”

Alison (whom we don’t meet until late in the play and who isn’t especially maternal) and Harper have been estranged and have not spoken for two years. They remember distinctly different versions of the past, not only of Alison’s separation from Harper’s father and her remarriage, but also involving a secret trouble connected to Harper’s husband.

“Alison’s moved on from all these family incidents and embarrassments, escaped from the complications of her own life by marrying a lovely, uncomplicated man who builds outdoor decks,” says Griffin. “When Harper finally confronts her and acknowledges the possibility that what Alison believes is indeed the truth, it changes the direction of Harper’s life.

“But a move to acceptance can’t fix all her problems. As in real life, the play offers a number of questions that aren’t resolved, though ultimately there’s the chance of forgiveness for the suffering caused in the past.”

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