Two couples struggle with a living past and a lifeless marriage in Where’s My Money? at Toronto’s Sterling Studio Theatre
On a cold and rainy night, I make my way down a dark and narrow road to the Sterling Studio Theatre. I take my seat, surrounded on all sides by an audience of ghouls. A musician with a pale white face and ratty clothing plays the blues. The stage is blanketed by fog. Has this play been hijacked by Halloween revelers?
The choice of opening night seemed strange to me… until the play began and I realized how befitting it was. John Patrick Shanley’s Where’s My Money? deals with characters who are haunted. Their past is not dead. Literally. The ghosts of ex-lovers show up to throw a wrench into their oh-so-civilized lives.
There are two couples—Henry and Natalie, Sidney and Marcia Marie. They are married. Should they be? Who are they really and what do they want from marriage? These are the questions they struggle to answer. And that struggle is both harrowing and hilarious.
The play opens with a chance meeting between estranged friends. Natalie is clearly the more put together of the two. She has a good job, nice clothes and a successful husband. Celeste is desperate, poor and grasping at any chance to escape her reality. After she confesses to a sexually violent affair with a married man, the sensible Natalie tries to give her some very practical advice. Her delivery is harsh and devastating, setting the tone for what is to come.
Each couple has sought out the institution of marriage for different reasons — security, fear, love. And now the ghosts of past relationships have disrupted their polished lives. For the next hour and a half, we watch these tortured yuppies work through their baggage and reveal their secret purposes. It is funny, thought-provoking and brutal.
The cast is impressive and perfectly in tune with the text and each other. These characters are intelligent, self-aware and eloquent. They know how to speak their minds well and sharp witted barbs abound. But there are subtle and telling differences in how they interact with each other. The performances highlight these nuances exceptionally well.
Damon Runyan and Sophie Ann Rooney (as Sidney and Marcia Marie) were somewhat unnerving to me. Despite the honesty of their arguments, they do not want to know each other. They want to protect themselves. There is the sense that their marriage is a mutually agreed upon trap that each has accepted for their own self-serving reasons.
Melissa Robertson and Michael Goldlist (as Natalie and Henry) are a more comforting presence. They actually listen to each other and, despite their common fears, they do want to know each other. There is a searching quality to their arguments.
Emily Coutts’s portrayal of Celeste is both funny and heartbreaking. While her attention-seeking, rapid-fire ramblings are endearing, I couldn’t help but be disturbed. She is, we discover, disenfranchised, deeply unhappy and self-destructive.
Jodi Sprung-Boyd has maintained a constant tension with staging that is restrained yet vibrant. Even the presence of the un-dead characters seems weirdly honest because of understated action and subtle make-up.
“What is marriage?” one character asks at the end of the play. It is a question that goes bump in the night. On the way home, my thoughts drifted to my own relationship history… and it went Boo!
Top-notch writing, insightful performances, and a deliciously spooky ghost story make this one hell of a show.
- Where’s My Money? is playing at the Sterling Studio Theatre (163 Sterling Rd) until November 9.
- Shows run Thursday to Sunday at 8pm (this week), and Tuesday to Saturday (next week).
- Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online or CASH ONLY at the door.
Photo of Emily Coutts by Angela Besharah