BEA'S NIECE by David Gow, directed by Richard Rose, with John Bourgeois, Patricia Hamilton, Fiona Highet and Maria Ricossa. Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman). Runs to February 6, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2:30 pm. $27-$33, Sunday pwyc-$15, some stu/sr discounts. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Much of the action of David Gow's Bea's Niece takes place in a hospital room and its adjacent corridors. Its look is cool, emotionally neutral, quietly two-dimensional. Unfortunately, those same qualities define the work's first act. There's some fire, though, in the second.
The work's central character is Anne Hirsch, a writer who's suffered a breakdown and is being treated by Beth Otis, a doctor who wants to use Anne's skill as a novelist to effect her cure. Guilt, past history and Anne's talent initially conspire against her recovery.
With an intentionally ambiguous sense of time and truth - what's real and what's not? - Gow takes us in and out of Anne's consciousness and conscience to look at her relationships with her husband, Bill, her full-blooded Aunt Bea, Beth and a tricky female rabbi whose business cards are those a magician might carry.
There's a sharpness in director Richard Rose 's production that's not always matched by the script, which is sometimes glib and dry-feeling in its attempts at intellectual tricks. The Jewish rituals that are part of the show aren't well integrated until the more involving second half, where the philosophical questions and poetic imagery finally begin to resonate.
As the central figure, Maria Ricossa brings emotional fragility and a proper sense of confusion to the part, but we're not impelled to care much for Anne in the play's first hour, a fault that's partly the playwright's. Fiona Highet 's clinical Beth fits into the production's coolness well, but John Bourgeois 's Bill has little life, despite his importance for Anne.
It's Patricia Hamilton who gives the show its dramatic and emotional spark, first as the no-nonsense Bea, with her tall tales and jokes, and later as the worldly-wise rabbi, a grandmotherly bubbe who explores the truth inherent in mystery and uses riddles to reach the heart of what she wants to impart. Gow's given her some engaging speeches, and Hamilton makes a banquet of them.
From Rough House's comic pratfalls to Trout Stanley's eccentrics and Little Dragon's kicks, there's lots to enjoy in T.O. theatres