GENEROUS by Michael Healey, directed by Daryl Cloran, with Tom Barnett, Ari Cohen, Yanna McIntosh, Michelle Monteith, Jordan Pettle and Fiona Reid. Tarragon (30 Bridgman). Previews through Sunday (September 24), opens Tuesday (September 26) and runs to October 29, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday (except September 23) 2:30 pm. $32-$38, Sunday pwyc-$17, previews $19, stu/srs discount. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNNNN
Actor Michelle Monteith, who's shared her talent generously over the past few months, next appears in playwright Michael Healey's season opener at the Tarragon.
And guess what? It's called Generous.
In June Monteith joined her old associates Theatre SKAM in a remount of Sean Dixon's Billy Nothin', and last month stepped into the lead role in Hannah Moscovitch's SummerWorks hit The Russian Play.
Now she moves from Moscovitch's hard-done-by Soviet woman to a daughter at odds with her mother in Healey's play, which looks at the consequences of doing good for problematic reasons. It's a thoughtful theme, and one that Healey's given a striking theatrical treatment. The play is actually four short plays, and the first act of Generous offers all four first acts. The second ties up the seemingly disparate plots in surprising fashion.
Monteith plays Lily, who tries to help those with whom she's involved, be it her mother or her boyfriends.
"When I first read the play, Lily seemed straightforward in who she was and what she wanted," offers the actor during a break in a long rehearsal day.
"But on the second reading she and those around her became more complicated. Lots of questions popped up for me as an actor, and I soon discovered that I had a lot to explore and even more to digest."
You can't talk about Healey's plays without mentioning how funny they are despite their serious topics.
"What's comical here is seeing people, including those who run our country, respond to difficult situations where they're being squeezed or pushed," laughs Monteith. "We don't usually think of those in charge acting like clowns, but that's what happens behind closed doors in the first scene."
In that scene Monteith plays a man in the prime minister's inner circle. She admits to having switched gender onstage once before, as young Malcolm in Macbeth while in university, but she's never been a grown-up man.
And the trick to carry it off?
"Shoes," she deadpans. "They're very important to me and help me find a character. And it's also about how men respond to stress - not taking something personally, dealing with it directly."
But Lily's her more important character, one she has to create in a brief span of time; she's only onstage for two scenes and briefly in a third.
"It's a challenge to build her as fully as I can in only 10 pages. She has a short arc, so the impact of her appearances has to be appropriate. I'm still figuring out how much is enough for a woman who's figured out how to cope at an early age and has found a personal truth that helps her survive."