Review: A Hannah Moscovitch Double Bill (Tarragon Theatre)

Little One

Tarragon Theatre hands the stage over to playwright-in-residence Hannah Moscovitch

A Hannah Moscovitch Double Bill featuring Little One and Other People’s Children is currently being produced by Tarragon Theatre where Moscovitch is a playwright-in-residence. The two plays (each about an hour long with an intermission in between) aren’t thematically linked: one could say they both deal with ‘family’, but it’s a loose connection. I found them to be very different beasts.

Little One is the story of two adopted children who grow up as brother and sister. The boy, Aaron, is relatively well-adjusted to having been orphaned, but the girl, Claire, had been found abandoned and seems to have suffered some unremembered trauma that twists her psyche into very dark places. Aaron tries to love her and tries to bravely face the deprivations he undergoes as the parents focus all their attention on his adoptive sister. But everyone has their breaking point, and Claire’s specialty seems to be finding people’s breaking points.

Claire is a monster – Aaron tells us that himself near the beginning of the play in a very funny moment. The humour in the piece does a fantastic job of underscoring the horror. Michelle Monteith (who I last had the pleasure of seeing in an equally creepy role in The Lesson) plays Claire with a sexually malevolent gusto and Joe Cobden’s anxiety-ridden adult-self plays against his magnanimous child-self to keep the tension in this thriller dialed up to ten.

The soundscape, composed by Lily Ling and including music played by young pianist Kaylie Lau, is also a major contributor to the atmosphere of the show. This play is a nightmare, in wonderful way.

Other People’s Children is gripping, but it didn’t impress me as much as Little One. In it, a nanny from Sri Lanka comes to live with a couple Ilana (Niki Landau) and Ben (Gray Powell) to take care of their ten month old baby and she gets caught up in their relationship drama. But the nanny, Sati (Elisa Moolecherry) is no passive pawn: she has a sordid history that is only hinted at, and she displays some very inappropriate behaviour that exacerbates the already fractious couple. Because of this Sati is an intriguing, multi-layered character. The couple, however, came across to me as stereotypical wealthy twits.

The play did explore a topic I consider important: how women are socially pressured into motherhood, and shamed for not being/feeling maternal. It just seemed that the conversation was placed as very black-and-white: Ilana was not motherhood-oriented because she was career-oriented and Sati was her foil, eschewing a career using her engineering degree in favour of caring for children.

There could have been an issue with North America not recognizing Sati’s foreign credentials, but that’s never mentioned, and why did she leave Sri Lanka? A failed marriage is brought up, but nothing solid. This makes Sati very interesting. Ilana’s life, in contrast, is made up of her high-powered lawyer job, guilting her husband, and hating her mother in law, which is not very interesting. She is at her most engrossing when dealing with the conflicting emotions of being grateful to Sati for taking care of the baby and resenting her for succeeding at mothering where Ilana has failed.

Ben is some sort of businessman who is loving and kind in between bouts of jealousy, spousal manipulation and barely-restrained violence, which is, in my opinion, a stereotype. Of course, for the couple to afford a live-in nanny they both had to be in good money-making jobs, so the “wealthy twit” type works for what the piece wants to do. I just felt that Sati’s complexity made the other two look that much more flat. This is a quibble though: overall the show is very good.

Double Bill runs to March 21st but on March 19th Little One is being replaced, so I’m tempted to urge you to go before then. But the replacement play, In This World, sounds really interesting and it’s directed by Andrew Lamb, who did the fantastic With Love and a Major Organ at Fringe and again at Next Stage – so that has a high chance of being as excellent as Little One!

Details

  • A Hannah Moscovitch Double Bill featuring Little One and Other People’s Children is playing until March 17th, 2013 and featuring In This World and and Other People’s Children until March 24th, 2013 at the Tarragon Theatre‘s Extra Space, 30 Bridgeman Ave
  • Shows run Tuesday-Saturday at 8pm; Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:30pm
  • Tickets range from $27-$53 (including discounts for students, seniors and groups) with a Pay-What-You-Can 2:30pm matinee on Saturday, March 16. Rush Tickets available for $13 at the door Fridays (on sale at 6pm) & Sundays (on sale at 1pm)
  • Tickets are available are available by calling the box office at 416.531.1827 or by visiting www.tarragontheatre.com

Photo of Michelle Monteith and Joe Cobden by Nir Bareket

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