SOLDIER'S HEART by David French, directed by Bill Glassco, with Oliver Becker, Randy Hughson and Darren Keay. Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman). Runs to December 16, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday and Sunday 2:30 pm. $24-$30, Sunday pwyc-$15, stu/srs discounts. 416-531-1827. Rating: NN
david french has created some vital Canadian theatre with his ongoing history of the Mercer family, but the cycle's fifth instalment, Soldier's Heart, is fairly bloodless.Set in 1924 and chronologically the earliest in the series, it plays with the difficult father/son relationships that highlight Leaving Home and Of The Fields, Lately. Here, however, Jacob, the father in the other pieces, is the teenage son running away because of difficulties with his own father, Esau. The uncommunicative Esau broods about events at the battle of the Somme exactly eight years before, and it's his revelation at the end that contributes the script's only drama.
Until that last half-hour, French does some heavy-handed foreshadowing, adds a third character -- Randy Hughson, who gives the production a breath of down-to-earth humanity as Esau's secret-sharing war comrade -- and lays out the storyline with plodding predictability under Bill Glassco's direction.
Oliver Becker does what he can with the ill-defined Esau, suggesting with haunted eyes the man's despair. But Darren Keay, who's done charming work outside Toronto, makes his local debut in a role -- Jacob has lots of "and-what-happened-then?" lines -- that's little more than a plot device.
There's good writing in the Somme story, some sense of drama, but without the father/son tension that should underlie the historical memory, it has little emotional grounding in the play's present. As a result, there's no sense of release, of relaxation, at the conclusion.JK