HOMECHILD by Joan MacLeod, directed by Martha Henry (CanStage). Bluma Appel (27 Front East). Runs to January 28. $36-$80. 416-368-3110. See Theatre Listings. Rating: NN Rating: NN
The program notes for Joan MacLeod 's Homechild tell us the script has been in development for four years. So what happened?
MacLeod, a mainstay at the Tarragon, can be a beautiful writer. Her plays Jewel, The Shape Of A Girl and The Hope Slide are models of clarity and compression.
As monologues, they also feature far fewer actors than Homechild, which could explain the problem here. Maybe MacLeod can't write dialogue.
There's an awful lot of exposition in Homechild, which tells the story of the MacEacherns, a splintered family living in present-day Cornwall.
When the play opens, crotchety patriarch Alistair ( Eric Peterson ), his talkative sister-in-law Flora ( Patricia Hamilton ) and his slacker son Ewan ( Tom Rooney ) are preparing for the arrival of prodigal daughter Lorna ( Brenda Robins ).
Lorna, a divorcée who's escaped the country for Toronto, doesn't get along with Alistair, and before you can say On Golden Pond, the two are going at it.
But, ah, this isn't just a dysfunctional family play, it's also a history lesson. Alistair, we're told, was one of 100,000 "home children," kids sent from orphanages and impoverished parents in the UK to Canada from 1868 to 1930.
Ripped from his family and separated from his sister (who haunts his dreams, in the play's most annoying and least successful theatrical device), Alistair is understandably unhappy.
MacLeod has always had compassion for her characters, and she's got the different voices of the MacEachern family down pat: the miserable father, the defeated son and the stubborn daughter. Peterson, Rooney and Robins bring these people to life with darkly funny shadings and a few terrific one-liners.
But there's too much missing from the story. What happened to Alistair's wife? What caused the rift between father and daughter?
Martha Henry 's direction doesn't help clarify things. She stages some memory scenes so far from the front of the stage, they may as well be happening in Britain. Astrid Janson 's many-tiered set, while nice to look at, fails to draw us in emotionally.
What's most irksome about Homechild is the fact that it's so bluntly an issue play.
I'm sure busloads of high school students are going to be packing out those matinees so they can "discuss later."
Too bad the history lesson isn't more artfully packaged.