The Valley is topical and well-told, now playing on the Toronto stage
Mental illness can sometimes feel like a runaway train, but The Valley harnesses it’s softer moments into a deeply emotional and touching story. Written by Canadian playwright Joan MacLeod and produced by East Side Players, it explores the misunderstood–and frankly, unexplored–relationship between law enforcement and mental illness.
At the top of the show, we meet Connor (Nathan Costa). He’s a sort of dishevelled, jumpy artistic-type, excited to start his studies at the University of Calgary. Skip forward a few months, and everything starts to fall apart. He develops bipolar disorder and is unable to function mentally, leading to a run-in with the police and a trip to the hospital, turning his and his mother’s life completely upside down.
The Valley hits almost a little too close to home with its intimate story of the painful effects that mental illness can have on relationships. It’s something that has touched almost everyone’s life in some way, including my own.
As such, I found Nathan Costa’s portrayal of Connor’s mental breakdown to be almost scarily accurate. He explored not one, but several shades of grey in his spiral downwards into the pits of depression. Anyone who has gone through mental troubles will know that it’s not just sadness, but an absence of emotion which would normally be hard for any actor to pull off. However, Costa does it justice. His eyes have that dead look to them, with a quiet intensity, like he’s going to blow at any minute. It was a strong performance on his part.
Another standout is Shawn Lall as the police officer who later assaults Connor on a subway platform. His performance is grounded and contained, which is exactly what that kind of role depends on.
The set design by Heather Roberts is dynamite, with natural tones of white and beige sitting comfortably against the worn out brick wall of the Papermill Theatre. It provides a neutral playground, allowing the audience to really focus in on the action of the story, which in my opinion is the strongest and most important aspect of this production.
MacLeod’s script is thorough, with a strong storyline as well as complex characters who truly captivate. She weaves the theme of mental illness throughout while keeping the story grounded in the everyday. Even though Connor and his mother are fraught with depression, frustration and despair, there is still a tenderness that shines through, allowing us to relate to these people on a deeply intimate level.
All in all The Valley impressed, turning a nervous breakdown into a triumph and as someone who has gone through their fair share of mental health struggles, it was refreshing to see. If your life has ever been effected by mental illness, there is no doubt you’ll be able to find a piece of your personal journey in Macleod’s riveting story.
- The Valley is playing at the Papermill Theatre (67 Pottery Rd.)
- The show plays from from October 17-November 4, 2017
- Shows run Wednesday to Saturday at 8:00 p.m. & Sunday at 2:00 p.m.
- Tickets are 25$ (15$ for students) and are available to purchase online, or in person at the Papermill Theatre box office before the show.
- This venue is accessible.
Photo of Nathan Costa and Janice Hansen provided by the company.