THE DARLING FAMILY
by Linda Griffiths
Horseshoes and Hand Grenades Equity Co-op
Studio 16, 1555 W. 7th Av.
When Toronto playwright Linda Griffiths first performed her two-hander, The Darling Family, in 1991, it had no intermission, no set, no sound or lighting cues, and not even a director. A fractured conversation between a pregnant young woman and her boyfriend about whether or not she should have an abortion, what his role in the situation should be, and how it all affects their relationship, the success of the play relies on the quality of the writing, the honesty of the performances, the continued relevance of the situation, and one clever twist: though the two characters talk to each other, they confide their subtexts to the audience.
Sean Devine over-theatricalizes the Horseshoes and Hand Grenades production of the play with mostly unfortunate results. The opening scene, for example, is a strange, disturbing monologue by the woman, known only as SHE, who describes for the audience what sounds like a nightmare but what may be, as she suggests later, a past-life regression. In any case it involves her being raped by her father and delivering a stillborn child in great agony. Alexa Dubreuil’s performance is rivetting—until the other actor, Nathan Schwartz, appears upstage in a spotlight, amid the gauzy curtains that comprise the set, broadly miming some peculiar physical action. He completely upstages her, killing the powerful moment.
Dubreuil will get her chance at mime later, the two will do some contact improv, and from time to time photos of a guy in an apartment, who may or may not be Schwartz, doing something only abstractly related to the abortion conversation, appears projected on the gauze curtains. And the 90 minute play gets an unnecessary 15 minute intermission. None of these additions serves the play very well.
That said, there is still a lot to like here. Dubreuil is very, very good, giving us access to all of this young woman’s ambivalence, confusion and pain. Some of Devine’s staging works effectively: a sequence where HE and SHE talk over each other as they pass behind the gauze curtains in styledized movement; a sequence where SHE puts on lipstick as if flagellating herself.
And the situation itself hasn’t lost its timeliness or complexity, although Griffiths’ decision to give HE a crisis involving his own missing father seems tacked on and unnecessary. Nor does it help that Schwartz sometimes seems uncomfortable with his character, acting his moderately uptight semi-conventionality with a kind of Stephen Harper stiffness.
Less is more, boys. Less is more.