A FEW BRITTLE LEAVES by Sky Gilbert (Cabaret Company). At Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander). Runs to May 5, Wednesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $20-$30. 416-975-8555. Rating: NNN
Viola and Penny Pie, aging sisters living in the quaint British village of Upsydownshire, couldn't be more different.
Viola (Gavin Crawford) is bookish and contentedly resigned to growing older; Penny (Ed Roy) insists on maintaining her youth, glamming up as best she can to snare the new and much younger vicar, Mr. Gupta (Zahir Gilani). She sees the Pies' recently arrived niece, Nora (Philippe Van de Maele Martin), as her rival in the love game she's playing.
Sky Gilbert's latest, A Few Brittle Leaves, begins as a comedy but becomes in its second act a poignant look at what it means to move into the latter part of life. The script, which includes some thoughts about being queer in this small village, suggests the varied means of acknowledging desire and sexuality, both to oneself and to others.
Much of the comedy falls to Roy, one of the play's three actors in cross-dress. He handles it well enough, though at times director Gilbert asks him to go unnecessarily over the top.
The script is best, in fact, when it reveals its heart rather than aims for laughs. Penny's baring her soul in the second act, first in pettish but richly felt rebellion and later in a quieter vein where she makes amends for her actions, are both strong moments.
Though Gupta and Nora are intentionally sketchy in the first act, Gilbert's given Gilani and Van de Maele Martin some nuanced moments in the second in which they suggest a depth of character and some secrets as well.
But it's Crawford's conciliatory Viola who makes the strongest impression as a woman with an unspoken history who understands the movement of time in her life and the ways she can best accept it. With a keen sense of timing, Crawford draws a subtle figure: Viola holds herself with seeming calmness but suggests an unspoken tautness beneath the surface, while her philosophy of life accommodates both her past and her present.