>>> Review: Happy Place

HAPPY PLACE by Pamela Mala Sinha (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre (50 Tank House). Runs in rep to October 17..

HAPPY PLACE by Pamela Mala Sinha (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre (50 Tank House). Runs in rep to October 17. $29.50-$94. 416-866-8666, soulpepper.ca. Rating: NNNN

We have to learn compassion for ourselves before we can feel it for another.

That idea is central to Pamela Mala Sinhas affecting Happy Place, set in an in-patient centre for women dealing with various sorts of trauma.

The audiences entry into the action is Samira (Oyin Oladejo), a young woman who literally leaps into the world of the play as the centres newest resident. At first shes withdrawn around the other five patients and the doctor, Louise (Deborah Drakeford), who cares for and about them all. Samira, whos been sexually abused, learns that her journey doesnt involve travelling a straight line to revelation and healing.

But Sinha is concerned with other stories, too. Her script has a filmic quality as our attention shifts from one woman to another, Alan Dilworths warm direction intentionally letting one scene bleed into the next.

He gets fine work from his actors, who include Diane DAquila as the shit-disturbing, raunchy Mildred Caroline Gillis as the nosy Joyce Irene Poole as the initially frosty, condescending Rosemary Liisa Repo-Martell as the tightly wound Nina and Sinha as Kathleen, who has had too many experiences of sexual abuse.

Oladejo brings emotional truth, especially anger and frustration, to her role, notably in an episode in which she talks to her attacker.

As serious as the material is, the playwright includes a good dose of laughter among the women, some of it self-directed. Theres a wonderful episode in which Joyce and Rosemary discover that a surprising occasion in their lives intersected.

Several group scenes stand out, among them an art therapy session in which Louise asks the five to do a collage of their happy place of comfort, and another in which they share memories and feelings using a native talking stick. The growing bond between Samira and Kathleen their parallel histories bring them together is especially moving.

Happy Place doesnt provide resolutions for its characters, but thats one of Sinhas points. While there are no easy answers to these womens troubled lives, they have, in part through sharing with the others, found individual paths on which they can move forward.

In this poignant production, we go on the journey with them and find something hopeful within ourselves, too.

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