MY MOTHER'S FEET by Gina Wilkinson, directed by Micheline Chevrier, with Jerry Franken, Tom Rooney and Jane Spidell. Presented by CanStage at Berkeley Upstairs (26 Berkeley). Opens tonight (Thursday, March 10) and runs to April 2, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Saturday 2 pm. $26. 416-368-3110. Rating: NNNNN
As far as some people are concerned, mother love transmutes way too easily into smother love.
Just ask Dan, the narrator and central character in Gina Wilkinson's My Mother's Feet. As soon as he could, he fled thousands of miles away from his mother. Maybe that's not so unusual. But the opening of the play certainly is, when Dan introduces not only himself but also the pair of prosthetic feet standing next to him. They belong to his mother, and how they become part of Dan's history is both darkly comic and horrifying.
Dan's leaps between past and present and comments on the details he offers us mean the work's quirky narrative is far from linear.
"It almost has a vaudeville quality," says Tom Rooney, who plays the part, "but not in the traditional sense. The writing is a series of little variety acts, moving, for instance, from a choral piece to a poetic scene to a flat-out piece of storytelling.
"As an actor, I'm being asked to shape-shift, to make changes" - he snaps his fingers - "that quickly."
Rooney's had a whirlwind year, first playing the brooding title figure in Hamlet, then being teased into a comic role in the musical Hairspray as the endearing father Wilbur Turnblad, and now taking on the troubled yet funny Dan.
He's also crown attorney David Kaye on the terrific CBC series This Is Wonderland, which employs so many Toronto stage actors.
The Hairspray gig was exciting for him, though now he admits that at first, after watching the energy of the young cast, he was afraid he'd be fired. Yet he regularly stopped the show with the tender retro number he shared with Jay Brazeau, who played his wife.
"Yes," he recalls, "that was a great number. But it was a real switch changing gears from the Shakespeare. About all the two shows have in common is that they start with an H."
In My Mother's Feet, Rooney has to change gears a lot. At times the piece has the feel of a solo show, though he shares the stage with Jane Spidell and Jerry Franken.
Even its comedy is mixed.
"We've talked about comedians who are driven by anger, and that's part of the nature of the humour here. It goes from oddball to dark, from playful and light to sinister, all in the course of a single page.
"We have to walk a fine line, because the subject has its serious side. But Gina tells it in a way that's palatable, so the audience doesn't become deaf when the heavier material appears.
"The story is about love and how big it can be, and we think comedy will be a way to ease people and relax them."
Ultimately, the actor says, the storytelling device is as important for Dan as for the audience.
"The great thing about Dan's little journey is that he's caught in a dilemma, not knowing what to do. He needs to tell the audience his life experiences so he's not alone in the decision he makes.
"Sometimes a person has to tell a story to get help from others, but in Dan's case he can hear it again and sort it out for himself."