14 October 2007
Playhouse, the Arts Centre
Half Life has deservedly won many Canadian theatre awards since its Ottawa premiere in June 2005. Necessary Angel Theatre Company’s production is a moving, gentle and thought provoking piece of theatre.
Necessary Angel’s web site declares that no question is too simple or too large for the company to tackle. Patrick and Clara meet in a nursing home. Both think they may have once known each other . They fall in love. Their story is interwoven with that of their 40-something children who are facing their own aging and the loss of their parents.
John Mighton’s script actively explores multiple issues of aging, memory and loss of memory. Donald understands computers and how artificial intelligence will one day overcome human intelligence, but he cannot understand that his demented mother is in love with Patrick. The structure and intelligence of this work is so tight that it sometimes overwhelms the emotional beauty of it. Mighton puts his own opinions and philosophy’s into his characters, but there are moments when this stops them being their authentic selves. At times their dialogue sounded just a bit too “written” and forced.
Director Daniel Brooks says “John writes on many different levels. There’s usually a potent theatrical metaphor in every scene, but he doesn’t always think about how you get from one to another.” The director knows that he is dealing with a dense and occasionally overwritten script, but he brings its inherent beauty and profound intelligence to the stage. Even an obvious metaphor of a spilt drink and Donald saying he “made a terrible mess” flows seamlessly and beautifully.
The direction brings the unconscious level of the script to life. The mood of Half Life is always twilight. Darkness and light combine to form something else. There’s none of the fluorescent lights and musak (or grim silence) associated with hospitals or nursing homes. There’s a soundscape of gentle, yet sombre music filling the silences. The costumes are shades of earthy browns and greens. The stage is always dark, with just the immediate environment of the characters lit. We see just what we need to, but always know there is much hidden from our sight.
The cast support the mood and direction superbly. We care and feel for them, but they never let one character dominate or steal the audience’s sympathy.
Brooks says that Necessary Angel “reject the convenient, the conventional and are committed to giving every play we create the necessary time to develop.” Half Life is a shining example of an artistic process that understands and values the art of theatre.
This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.