LATE By Marcia Johnson, directed by Marjorie Chan, with Edwige Jean-Pierre, Sabryn Rock and Mazin Elsadig.
BLACK MEDEA By Wesley Enoch, directed by Philip Akin, with Audrey Dwyer, Lindsay Owen Pierre, Mariah Inger, Tiffany Martin, Meleke Bell and Isaiah Bell. Presented by Obsidian Theatre at Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley). Previews begin today (Thursday, September 11), opens Wednesday (September 17) and runs to October 5, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2 pm. $20-$30, previews $15, stu/sr/art workers discount. 416-368-3110 .
The pain of losing the most important person in your life isn't a simple emotion. Sometimes anger fuels that pain, sometimes grief.
Obsidian Theatre's double bill of Marcia Johnson's Late and Wesley Enoch's Black Medea looks at both possibilities.
Johnson's play, which began life in Obsidian's playwrights' unit, shifts between past and present to focus on Donna and her neighbour Carol. The two women mourn the abrupt loss of partners in relationships torn apart by very different circumstances.
Australian playwright Enoch's work is a reinterpretation of the tale of Medea, the mythic Greek figure who takes a dreadful revenge on the husband who has forsaken her.
"I think both Donna and Medea are so terribly isolated and stuck," offers Audrey Dwyer, who plays the lead role in Black Medea. "The situations are different, but somehow each is trapped and must find a way out of the loneliness she's facing."
Not only are the situations different, but so are the tones of the works. Despite the theme of loss, Late is leavened by comedy; Black Medea, on the other hand, has the weight of Greek tragedy in the pull toward its inexorable conclusion.
"For all its sadness around coping with the loss of a loved one, my play has plenty of laughs," admits Johnson, an actor and writer who spent the summer as playwright-in-residence at the Blyth Festival. The fest premiered Courting Johanna, her adaptation of an Alice Munro story.
"I tried to write a drama, but I ended up with a comedy," she smiles. "It seems the only time I can create a serious piece is when I'm working on an opera libretto."
Late's humour, she adds, is rooted in the awkwardness between Donna and Carol, with the latter trying to offer help to the former.
"Though Carol is the elder, it's Donna who has her act together. Carol means well, but she doesn't have the wealth of knowledge or expertise to offer a great deal. I like her for her good intentions, but Carol is a bull in a china shop when she's dealing with emotions.
"At one level, the play asks whether a good heart is enough to make a difference in these circumstances. It almost seems accidental when Carol does something positive, because her actions could easily ruin everything."
All is already ruined at the start of Black Medea, in which a native Australian woman leaves her desert home to be with the well-to-do, city-born Jason.
But denying her land and her culture is the wrong choice, as the chorus reminds the troubled Medea.
"The chorus creates the story before our eyes," says Dwyer, whose previous stage work includes The Babysitter and Tideline. "They're part of Medea's dreamlife, a vital concept for Aboriginal Australians. Members of that native society create their own truths and realities based on dreams.
"The two-member chorus becomes less of a fantasy born in Medea's mind and more figures of reality as they continue to hunt her. At first glance she's escaping from her past, but she finds herself running full-steam into her future, gathering what she can in the process."
Black Medea makes use of a device Wesley calls the blackout poem, an episode of physical theatre that Dwyer describes as "snapshots of the past that comment on the present story."
In fact, past and present inform each other in both halves of the double bill, which continues Obsidian Theatre's mandate to give voice to black playwrights from around the world.
Not surprisingly, Johnson's grateful for the chance to develop a work through the company's playwrights' unit, which this season enters its third year.
"I was in the first unit," she recalls, "and I knew even then how vital it was to support and develop black playwrights, authors who have a variety of stories to tell.
"I never felt I had to write to an agenda, but focused on just what I wanted to write
. What surprised me was that I didn't even mention Jamaica, which comes out so often in my work. This quirky love story stands on its own."