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Walk Right Up
Studio Theatre
By Celia McBride
Directed by Michael Shamata

Play summary | Globe and Mail review

From the program:

When parents must turn to their children for care, who should make the necessary sacrifices? That's the question facing Pill and her siblings as they struggle with their sense of duty toward their once-strong parents. Sometimes, they find, surrender is the only way to prevail.

The Globe and Mail's review:


Written by Timothy Findley

Directed by Dennis Garnhum

Starring Brent Carver, Brenda Robins, Stephen Ouimette and Karen Robinson

Rating: *½

Walk Right Up

Written by Celia McBride

Directed by Michael Shamata

Starring Paul Soles, Elizabeth Shepherd and Kimwun Perehinec

Rating: **

At the Studio Theatre in Stratford, Ont.

At one of the many climatic moments of Shadows, a one-act play written by Timothy Findley shortly before his death in June, a wife cries to her husband "Who the hell is us?" Sitting out in the long-suffering audience, one is sorely tempted to retort: "Well, dear, we wish to hell we knew."

Seldom has a less plausible group of people been assembled for a drama than the shallow crew Findley created for this piece, which was commissioned to help launch the Stratford Festival's new Studio Theatre. And that, it turns out, is precisely the point, as a wicked Findley plays little theatrical games with us.

Ben (Brent Carver), a successful playwright, and his wife Shelagh (Brenda Robins) are giving a dinner party for old friends, former lovers and new recruits. It is late, the guests have just witnessed a lunar eclipse, and now Ben decides they should all play his own personal version of Truth or Consequences. Each guest must reveal a deeply personal secret and the others must guess whether or not it is true. From actors Lily (Karen Robinson) and Dan (Stephen Ouimette), from stage designer Kate (Chick Reid), from photographer Owen (Gordon Rand) and from student Meredith ((Kimwun Perehinec), there follows an increasingly outrageous but seemingly heartfelt string of stories featuring abortion, infertility, homosexuality and much sexual cheating amongst these supposed friends.

Not only are their stories unbelievable, their characters are contradictory and their relationships confused. Just when you start to wonder how Findley, a competent and interesting playwright if never perhaps a great one, could possibly have written something this bad, he pulls his rabbit out of his hat. I won't say what exactly the surprise is, but it is not merely the guests' stories but also the dinner party and the game-playing that are not to be believed.

The house lights come up and the fourth wall is shattered. Or at least that is what is supposed to happen but if the ever-charming leadership of the impish Carver in the role of Ben makes the exercise less than painful, nothing that director Dennis Garnhum can do makes it structurally convincing or intellectually interesting. Perhaps wisely, the director does not ask his cast to play out the layering of the script that would involve acting out acting. Instead, the actors are left struggling to play Findley's feeble characters as straight as they can.

It would be lovely to report from Stratford that Findley's last gift to the theatre was, if not some deep drama, than at least an ingenuously crafted reflection on theatrical illusion. But in truth, Shadows starts out looking like a bad play and then reveals itself to be something else altogether: A cheap trick.

If Findley's play gleefully breaks rules, the first half of this double bill goes strictly by the book: Celia McBride's Walk Right Up is a tidily crafted and well observed if ultimately banal family drama about the difficulties of caring for aging parents.

Millar Ruskin (Paul Soles) has had a stroke that has left him partly paralyzed; his wife Lily (Elizabeth Shepherd) is vigorous but showing signs of dementia. Their generous if slightly martyred daughter Poet (Kimwun Perehinec) has been looking after them at the cottage to which they have retired, but needs to head back to the city for an acting job.

She has asked resentful older sister Ella (Brenda Robins) to fill in; Ella has instead hired estranged pot-head brother Brilliant (Damien Atkins) to do the job.

If this script rises above movie-of-the-week clichés it is because the characters are richly described and because it largely avoids sentimentality and solutions, although the implausible reconciliation of its ending somewhat mars that second achievement. Director Michael Shamata handles it very delicately, giving the material the best outing possible -- in less careful hands the paint-by-number quality of this script would be only too apparent.

As the pushy Lily, Shepherd creates the kind of overly theatrical mother who would give her children names like Brilliant and Poet, but she tends to do so with too much visible force, robbing the threat of mother's dementia of its power by failing to suggest the character's incipient weakness. Soles, on the other hand, finds some moving emotional strength underneath a plausibly crippled dad, while Perehinec also overdoes Poet's brittle competence. What's much more interesting to watch is Robins's Ella, all sharp and hard, attempting some kind of connection with the wonderfully shifty Brilliant created by Atkins.

Despite their unfortunate names, these are rich characters that McBride has created here: one wishes for a more complex plot and less obvious theme to do them justice.

The double bill runs at the Studio Theatre in Stratford, Ont., until Sept. 15. For information: 1-800-567-1600.

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