A Glowing Stage Gift
‘What if I have come to the end?’ asks an uncertain Helen half way through the play. It’s a critical question that must be answered because when any kind of end draws near—we need assurance that our symbolic Mecca was a worthwhile destination regardless of what anyone else believes.
It’s this kind of thematic reasoning that paves the way in Athol Fugard’s conflicted and deeply endearing tale of friendship, love and awakening.
Darkness has descended upon Helen’s home in Karoo, South Africa where she has one friend who can save her life. The widow’s back yard is filled with life-like sculptures that have embodied her artistic pursuit despite the mind and body not functioning like it was once able. The controversial creations have disrupted a community yet one woman’s passion in life remains untethered.
Elsa (Shannon Taylor), a school teacher battling with her own demons, is troubled by the contents of her letter and makes a surprise visit to better understand the issues facing her aged confidant.
On the same day of Elsa’s arrival, a pastor widower, Marius, stops by for a shepherding call to ensure the safety of Helen’s future. An emotionally dramatic tug of war ensues over what’s right, what’s wrong, hidden objectives and the fundamental need for expressionism.
Diana Leblanc’s return to the stage is perhaps theatre’s brightest light in the city this month. Only when you see her character’s state of impetuous confusion do you lament the fact there are not more roles for actors like herself. Helen’s problem is all our problem and Leblanc’s immensely tender performance is like a visit to grandma’s house that you never wanted to end.
Could this be David Fox’s greatest role of his career? The inherent righteousness he imbeds into this role makes it impossible to determine if the character’s motivation is a pious act or driven by self-interest. You want to like Marius for his good deeds but can’t be sure if you should.
Soulpepper Theatre’s beautifully wrought presentation is an intricate and dazzling work of art with director David Storch radiantly capturing contention on the various levels in which it prevails.
Prejudice, misconceptions, and personal freedom illustrate the struggles that will forever dominate our existence. This glowing stage gift serves as a sentimental reminder that it need not be that way.
Review by Steven Berketo