THE GARDEN by Laura Astwood, Barbara Gosling Gray and Karin Randoja, with Astwood. May 31 to June 17, Thursday-Sunday 8 pm. $12. St. Mary's Art Centre (40 Westmoreland). 416-534-7360. Rating: NNNNN
with e-mail, chat lines and cell-phones, who bothers to write letters these days? Laura Astwood and Barbara Gosling Gray do. Or did, for 13 years, right up until Gray's death in September 1999.
Now Astwood and director Karin Randoja have culled Gray's letters -- some 30 to 40 of them -- to create The Garden, an intimate look at friendship and the human spirit.
"It's not her life story, it's the story of her life in its last moments," explains Astwood, who met Gray in university and performed with the Winnipeg troupe Primus, where she met Randoja.
Don't expect a dramatic reading of the letters. "This woman has just died, and her consciousness or spirit has one hour before it has to leave for wherever it goes," says Astwood, who plays the Gray-like character of Nancy in the solo show.
During that final hour, she tries to make pies for her own funeral but keeps getting sidetracked. "She talks about a stillborn baby, what will happen to her family without her and the beauty of the world," says Astwood.
There's built-in tension, thanks to an oven timer counting down the minutes. But Astwood points out that Gray's prose has drama and immediacy, too.
"She was diabetic and had heart disease, so her language often made it seem like she had only a few minutes to live. She had to live hard, grab everything."
And what would Gray think of this play?
"I think she'd laugh," says Astwood. "We always joked that our letters would be published posthumously. Now I've made this play. I felt that the only way I could continue our story as friends was to tell it. That's what this is. I'm continuing our story."