Review: 6 Essential Questions (Factory Theatre)

Cast of 6 Essential Questions

6 Essential Questions explores a strained reunion between a mother and daughter at Toronto’s Factory Theatre

Last night was the world premier of 6 Essential Questions by Priscila Uppal at Factory Theatre. The play is based on her 2013 memoir Projection: Encounters with My Runaway Mother, a book that I’ll definitely be reading soon.

Renata (played by Mina James) travels from Canada to Brazil to meet the mother who abandoned her when she was five.

My friend Pat and I both thought that Elizabeth Saunders was fabulous as Mother; she’s flamboyant, completely self-centred, and unable to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. In her head she has a numbered list of things that she likes about her and – sometimes apropos of nothing in particular – will trot something out. “The 547th thing I like about myself is…”.

She has imagined a childhood for Renata that just didn’t exist. She thinks that she and Renata can just pick up and continue as if the intervening twenty some years hadn’t happened. She isn’t interested in history and tells Renata that they can just invent it as they go along.

Grandmother (Maggie Huculak) seems wispy and delicate compared to Mother. She’s torn between defending her daughter and trying to explain things to her grand-daughter. When Renata says her mother abandoned her Grandmother says “Don’t say abandoned, say lost”.

I enjoyed Richard Zeppieri’s performance as Uncle Garbage although Pat thought that it was a bit much. I enjoyed the interaction between him and Grandmother as he tried to get her to notice him. Their timing was always perfect.

The set is a pile of trash in the middle of the stage. The action takes place on the pile and around the pile. There were a few things pulled out of the pile; I thought there should have been more.

The thing I loved most about the play was the language, the wordplay, the dry wit. I loved Uppal’s use of unexpected metaphors.

The thing that surprised me most was the lack of passion, of emotion in James’ portrayal of Renata. There was no rage, no hurt, no disappointment, no feelings that I could see. I was prepared with Kleenex; from the description of the play I thought there was definitely the potential that I would cry. It wasn’t until the very end that a couple of tears rolled down my cheeks.

There’s enough humour in Uppal’s script to balance strong emotions. It seemed like a missed opportunity.

That said, I enjoyed the show and recommend it.

Details:

  • 6 Essential Questions is playing at Factory Mainspace Theatre (125 Bathurst St) until March 30th
  • Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 2pm
  • Ticket prices range from $27.00 to $42.00 and PWYC on Sunday
  • Tickets are available online, by phone at 416 504 9971, and at the box office

 Photo of Richard Zeppieri, Mina James, Elizabeth Saunders, and Maggie Huculak by Samantha Wu