The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble is an emotionally filled story about Alzheimer’s playing at Toronto’s Factory Theatre
There were several reasons I had been looking forward to the Factory Theatre and Obsidian Theatre co-production of The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble, and they all had to do with people who had been involved in some way, from the playwright all the way to the Artistic Directors of the theatre companies who decided this show would be a good one to put on stage.
With all this backing me, I didn’t look into what the play was about. I like going into a show like that. Not knowing what to expect. I like it to reveal on its own, instead of me anticipating when certain things will happen. The show was fantastic, and it was wonderful to see it unfold without expectations. But I do wish I had known enough about it to bring along tissues. Lots and lots of tissues.
For those who do like to have a bit of a clue of what you’re getting into, this is a story about a pretty close knit family, a mother and her three adult children, and the journey they take as they discover the mother has early onset Alzheimer’s. So, while the show is full of love, solidarity and humour, it’s also full of pain, anger and mourning.
It all fits together beautifully. Philip Akin has, once again, directed a piece of theatre that hits me right in the gut. Of course he isn’t in this alone. Beth Graham’s script is smart, funny, sad and complex, just like real life.
The actors inhabit the characters beautifully: Karen Robinson as the strong solid mother Bernice, the rock of the family; Alexis Gordon plays Iris, our narrator and, it would appear, the rock-in-training of the family; Lucinda Davis plays Sara, a relatively new mum and tightly wound eldest sister; and Peyson Rock is Peter, the youngest and quietest of Bernice’s three children.
I want to single out two in particular who really impressed me the night I saw the show. Karen Robinson was fantastic as Bernice. Watching her on stage as the Alzheimer’s progressed, watching her manage to make herself look simultaneously older and childlike, it was a sight to behold. That woman has so much talent it’s hard to imagine it can be contained within one person.
I feel like it would have been a bit intimidating playing so closely to a powerhouse of talent like Robson, but Alexis Gordon really held her own. In a lot of ways this is Iris’ show. Iris tells us the story. Gordon was on stage for the entire show. She didn’t get a break and didn’t miss a beat. Her performance was strong, solid and vulnerable. I really look forward to seeing more of Gordon on stage.
The design itself is pretty straight forward realistic, except for the walls of the kitchen. These are made up of rows upon rows of glass shelves, lit from below. They’re covered with salt and pepper shakers. When I first walked in I thought it was going to be a problem actually. My show partner, Sam, did too. We both thought we’d find it too distracting and hard to focus on the actors, kind of like stripped shirts when the stripes are a particular width apart and it can make it hard to focus on the person wearing them. It turns out though that within minutes it wasn’t an issue at all. Not a big surprise, as usual, Camellia Koo knew just what she was doing when she designed these sets.
In some ways one of the most wonderful thing about this show for me was that there was nothing particularly remarkable about the story. It’s not dressed up. This is no big dramatic event. There is no murder, there is no mysterious disappearance, there isn’t even a car crash. There is a parent diagnosed with a disease that so many people have. Diagnosed with a disease that my aunt has, that countless parents and grandparents of my friends have had. The story is such a common one.
And that’s where part of the beauty comes from for me. One of the glorious things about art is that sometimes it can make the mundane everyday things in life beautiful and glorious.
Even though Sam and I sobbed through the piece, we also laughed through it, and we both loved it. She pointed out to me that it’s the kind of show that touches you so deeply that a camaraderie is built within the audience. You talk to the people around you as you stand up, as you mill around in the lobby, as you trundle down the stairs. You have just shared something special, and now you’re connected, so now you talk, even if it isn’t about the show.
I know it’s getting cold out and we want to cocoon, and I know that the idea of going to something that makes people cry may not sound like a fun thing to do, but it’s worth it. Really. It is. This is a really wonderful piece of theatre. If you can find a way to see it, I really recommend you do.
- The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble is playing until December 1, 2013 at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St)
- Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm
- Tickets range from $23-$45 (plus applicable service charges) and are available by phone at 416.504.9971 or online
- Run-time: 100 minutes (no intermission)
Photo of Peyson Rock, Alexis Gordon, Karen Robinson and Lucinda Davis by Joanna Akyol