In Birthday Balloon, playing as part of this year’s Next Stage Theatre Festival, David and Millie are at war. Their marriage is at stake and though Millie is desperate to salvage whatever it is they have left, David fears it may be too late. They’ve both already suffered the greatest tragedy that neither of them have been able to recover from.
There are quite a few underlying layers that make up the tapestry of Birthday Balloon bringing David (Craig Pike) and Millie (Renée Hackett) to where they are at this point. At this time, Newfoundland is struggling through its worse economic down turn since the 1930’s forcing David to find work out in Fort McMurray while Millie stays behind. The distance between them creates such a divide that a series of unfortunate events and clouded judgment leads to a horrific incident resulting in the loss of their child.
The play begins in the throes of a screaming match as Millie pitches anything she can find against the wall and at David as he stands idly by. Millie has discovered David been seeing someone else in Fort McMurray, someone younger named Autumn. From this point forward, the story undergoes all the familiar roller coaster twists and turns that fuel any lovers’ quarrel. There are moments of rage and misdirected blame followed by tenderness and hints of reconciliation. Each moment is wrapped in a heavy raw intensity.
I’m always looking for performers to really sell me their characters, especially in a two-hander piece. Pike and Hackett have simply nailed it. Their performances are superb, visceral and heartbreaking. I felt particularly moved near the end where Hackett, after their arduous fight, dutifully makes breakfast and leaves a place setting for someone who isn’t there. She then crumbles apart as she is left on her own.
I also particularly liked the staging that was both simplistic and yet highly effective, a screen door separating the front yard and the kitchen that leaves both areas accessible without the need to block anything off. I also loved the use of the real appliances.
My only criticism for the show is that at some points, I found the conversation dragged and petered off for a bit — certain points seemed hit on far longer than I felt was needed and I was eager for the pace to pick up.
Birthday Balloon is a depressing and heart-wrenching story but it is indeed a beautiful one that is certainly worth exploring at the Next Stage Festival this year.
- All Next Stage Theatre Festival performances are being held at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St.)
- Tickets for Mainstage and Studio shows are $15 and Ante-chamber performances are $10
- Showtimes and ticket information are available at fringetoronto.com/next-stage-festival/
Photo of Renée Hackett and Craig Pike by Tanja-Tiziana