As the audience settled into their seats just before the house lights went down for the opening of John Mighton's award winning play, Half Life, a conversation just behind me had one person querying her companion: "Is this the first time you've seen the play?" to which her friend answered in the affirmative. "Oh", the original speaker said somewhat proudly, "I've seen it before." I felt like turning around and injecting the old Dorothy Parker line: "Why, didn't you get it the first time?"
After seeing the play for the first time myself, I now see why someone might want to see it twice, or perhaps read it after seeing it. John Mighton is a thoughtful, intellectual playwright who probes our consciousness and asks us to consider the possibilities. In this case, the possibility that two seniors - Clara and Patrick -- now living in a group home, might have at one time - very long ago in their lives -- been lovers. With faded memories but resilient hearts still filled with emotion, the feisty Patrick proclaims his love for Clara who he rediscovers in the senior citizen's home they both now occupy. It is both an emotional as well as a physical divide that separates the two would-be lovers as they try to discover their past while planning for a future that, as octogenarians, may be very short lived.
Diego Matamoros plays Donald; the university professor who is reluctantly dealing with his mother Clara's declining faculties. Laura De Carteret is also introducing her father, Patrick (a former code breaker in the Second World War) to the home. Matamoros is known for his considered, studied style of acting that goes perfectly with the role here. De Carteret is the artsy type to Matamoros's intellectual and together they form a philosophy.
Carolyn Hetherington (as Clara) also strikes just the right chord as an amiable woman who knows (or thinks she knows) what love was and still is.
The always reliable Randy Hughson (as the Reverend) and Barbara Gordon as the curmudgeonly Agnes, form the necessary comic relief; he by way of long winded aphorisms and she through short, discussion stopping outbursts that pop the balloons of institutional hypocrisy and keep the play from falling into the morose.
Daniel Brooks has adapted the production beautifully to the Bluma stage from the smaller Tarragon where it premiered in 2005. I'm never quite sure why folks get queasy about bringing a small show into a larger space. After all, don't any numbers of stand up comedians fill huge performance spaces just with a spot-light "in-one" front of curtain? If there is something relevant and enjoyable on the stage, that's all that counts in the end.
John Mighton is known both as a playwright as well as a teacher in the field of mathematics who specializes in making math accessible to inner city kids. His writing ranges from popular ways to teach math to more esoteric titles such as, Knot theory on bipartite graphs. In bringing life to Half Life he has really created half a play. In straight forward style, it is composed of a series of scenes separated by black-outs, and comes in at an easy listening time of 90 minutes without an intermission and (more to the point) the burden of a second act that would necessitate a climactic crisis or any of the stumbling block structural problems that the more traditional form has built into it.
Half Life is what it is and that is -- to my mind -- a very good play. Not a great work, but one that certainly raises the benchmark for the local theatre community and allows a fine ensemble of actors to ply us on a sentimental journey of remembrance.