The one thing about breaking down the fourth wall in the theatre and using one of your characters to advance the exposition by way of direct dialog with the audience, is that itÕs hard to take your eyes off that character. Especially when the character (in this case, Iris Trimble, daughter to the eponymous Bernice) is played by Alexis Gordon who never lets us out of her sight for the entire 90 minutes of the playÕs running time and subsequently we never let her out of ours. Ms GordonÕs is an emotionally energetic, immediate and charismatic performance that really holds this frail piece of a play together.
With the boomers now heading toward retirement, old age (and all of the ailments associated with same), it shouldnÕt be a big surprise that there will be more and more plays focussing on the Ōsecond childishness and mere oblivionĶ about which Shakespeare speaks so eloquently. In Beth GrahamÕs play about the onset of early AlzheimerÕs disease, it is the character of Bernice Trimble (played by Karen Robinson), mother of Iris, Sarah and Peter that will soon be Ōsans everything.Ķ And so it is that she sets out to control her own destiny raising questions around the process of death and dying while she struggles for some control of her environment and, most of all, the preservation of her dignity.
It is an interesting choice of plays for Obsidian Theatre, long regarded as one of TorontoÕs (and CanadaÕs) preeminent companies producing work that emphasizes diversity and an opportunity for black actors. Director Philip Akin plays the race card in an interesting way by choosing white playwright (Beth Graham) and casting her play color blind with a black family facing the challenges of losing their matriarch. He thereby ups the ante with every white director in the country by demonstrating very publicly: there you go, the social concerns in this play are universal - beyond race, ethnicity and cultural identify - so the next time you cast a season of plays with only white actors, why donÕt you think about that?
The only catch to this philosophy is that of course somewhere out there is a black playwright who has also experienced early dementia, AlzheimerÕs and the irreversible road to oblivion in their own family and is thinking about or has written a play about it. ThatÕs the playwright who didnÕt get her or his shot with Obsidian this time out and whose heart lies heavy tonight IÕm sure. But such is life in the theatre.
The role of Sara Trimble is played forcefully by Lucinda Davis. As Iris is conscientious, quiet and caring so Sara is outspoken and totally take charge in her personality, even when she is wrong. The underwritten role of Peter Trimble (Peyson Rock) is so underdeveloped that it leaves one wondering why they even invested in it as an extra salary within the playÕs budget. Rock does his best with the little he has, but when it comes to his final meeting with Iris close to the playÕs conclusion, we really are expecting some elements of character, emotion and backstory to finally be revealed. Unfortunately such is not the case.
The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimbell plays until December 1 at Factory Theatre mainstage, 125 Bathurst St., 416-504-9971.
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