WALK RIGHT UP by Celia McBride, directed by Michael Shamata, with Damien Atkins, Kimwun Perehinec, Brenda Robins, Elizabeth Shepherd and Paul Soles, and
SHADOWS by Timothy Findley, directed by Dennis Garnhum, with Brent Carver, Stephen Ouimette, Perehinec, Gordon Rand, Chick Reid, Robins and Karen Robinson. Presented by the Stratford Festival at the Studio Theatre. Runs in rep to September 15. $28.15-$50. 1-800-567-1600. Rating: NNN
It has some problems, but Stratford's third double bill at the new Studio space does what theatre should do -- touch the emotions and get an audience involved in the fascinating interaction between characters.Celia McBride's Walk Right Up deals with the thorny issue of the obligations of and interest in care-giving between grown-up children and elderly parents. Who acts as parent? Who wants to be treated as parent -- or child, for that matter?
Writer Millar Ruskin (Paul Soles), who's dealing with the after-effects of a stroke, and his wife, Lily (Elizabeth Shepherd), in the early stages of Alzheimer's, are being looked after by their daughter Poet (Kimwun Perehinec). But she needs to leave to work in a film and, for her substitute, has to choose between her distanced elder sister, Ella (Brenda Robins), and constantly stoned brother, Brilliant (Damien Atkins).
McBride's script has emotional strength even if all the characters aren't well delineated, but the narrative comes to life only fitfully in director Michael Shamata's hands. He gives us a series of disconnected episodes rather than a flowing day in the figures' lives, so each point has to be reached without a clear link to earlier events. Robins is a standout as the daughter whose anger throbs like a raw wound, while Soles delivers a resonant outburst that unveils a new set of parental feelings.
Timothy Findley's Shadows emerges as a Pirandello-like game, with the action and answers to the questions posed by the script literally thrown into the audience's lap when the action breaks the theatre's fourth wall.
It begins during a bibulous dinner party, with the company returning to table after watching a lunar eclipse. Playwright Ben (Brent Carver) and his wife, Shelagh (Robins), are hosting actors, designers and a few new faces. The seven play a game where each must tell a story and the others guess if it's true or not.
The script is loaded with witty, sometimes catty repartee (there's more than a touch of Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf lurking here), and director Dennis Garnhum plays up the script's glitter. This hour-long piece surprises with more narrative turns and tricks than you'll find in most full-length plays, but it's too bad Findley isn't still here to do one or two more tightening rewrites.
Still, there's plenty to engage us, including a sassy, passionate performance by Karen Robinson, Chick Reid's bitchy designer and Perehinec's initially gushy but later mysterious guest, a seeming ingenue in this group of heavy-hitting theatre artists.