PORTIA COUGHLAN by Marina Carr, directed by Natalie Harrower, with Lesley Dowey, Christopher Morris, Ann Holloway, Paula Sperdakos, Razie Brownstone and Peter Higginson. Presented by the Graduate Centre for Study of Drama at the Studio Theatre (4 Glen Morris). Runs to December 9, Thursday-Friday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2 pm. $12, stu/srs $10, Sunday pwyc. 416-978-7986. Rating: NNN
portia coughlan, the sad, angry title character in Marina Carr's play, is obsessed with her twin brother Gabriel, who drowned years before in the local river. Portia won't let those around her forget the loss either, and in Carr's intriguing, lyrical script the audience is also haunted by the living and the dead. Carr plays with the idea of twinned, shared souls, physically and emotionally damaged people and the importance of names -- Portia is married to Raphael Coughlan, for instance, and angelic echoes filter through the piece. Some of Carr's strongest writing goes to Portia, in powerful speeches that voice but don't resolve her bitterness and despair. Reversing the chronological order of scenes in the second half, the playwright focuses on character rather than plot, giving a striking emphasis to these Irish figures.
Under director Natalie Harrower, this Canadian premiere has much to admire, notably Lesley Dowey's Portia, a passionate woman with a poetic soul. Christopher Morris's Raphael is a pitiable man who tries fruitlessly to kindle love at home, while Louis Adams brings a believable sadness to Portia's sometime lover.
As Portia's aunt, Ann Holloway begins as a robust cartoon, but turns into an earthy, sympathetic figure -- one of Portia's few allies. Too bad Harrower doesn't get work that good from the rest of Portia's secretive relatives. The writing for her mother, father and grandmother are the nastiest, funniest parts of the play, but the actors don't communicate the poison festering in this family.