Alumnae Theatre in Toronto celebrates 100 years of female-run theatre with Omission
Friday wasn’t exactly 100 years since Alumnae Theatre presented their first play in Toronto; it was 99 years and 25 days. Close enough. Alumnae is the longest running female-run theatre company in North America — definitely cause for a celebration. And celebrate they did with balloons, cupcakes, and a special cocktail before the world premier of Omission by Alice Abracen.
I love theatre that entertains me and makes me think without ever feeling like I’m being beaten over the head. It can be difficult to raise moral questions and teach lessons about morality without becoming didactic. Abracen does it with ease; she’s a playwright to watch. The play is wonderful — compelling plot, interesting characters, and great character development. I love that her dialogue includes the little throwaway lines and quips that are part of everyday conversation. Anne Harper directs an impressive cast with ease.
Omission is a play about atonement and forgiveness. It’s set in an unnamed South American country just before the Papal Conclave. Thirty years earlier it was ruled by a right-wing dictator. People, including Catholic clergy, were branded Communists, taken by the military, and never seen again.
The characters are all complex and multi-faceted and the roles are challenging. The actors all rise to the challenge.
Thomas O’Neill gives a stellar performance as Cardinal Matias Iglesias, one of the Cardinals in the running to become Pope. He’s completely convincing as a man who believes that his lack of action 30 years prior cost two of his friends their lives and he’s spent the intervening years trying to atone for his behaviour. He believes that he can make positives changes in the world as Pope.
Part of the time he’s talking with a young Canadian journalist, Megan Gutierrez (Gillain Reed) in the present and he’s a charming, strong man who believes he has done the right things with his life. The other parts of the play are flashbacks to 30 years earlier and we see a more authoritarian priest who believes that he is protecting ‘his’ people by keeping a low profile and covering his ass. O’Neill deftly switches between the two.
Reed’s Gutierrez begins as a polite young woman, a bit defensive, progressives to show her determination to expose the Cardinal’s part in the death of his friends, starts to believe what really happened but remains unwilling to forgive him, and ends up absolving him of responsibility. She makes all the transitions smoothly so that she’s always the same person, but experiencing different emotions.
One of the two friends is Father Gabriel Mejia played by Evan Walsh. He’s just as convincing early in the play as a young, uncertain priest as he is by the end of the play when he has become actively engaged against the government. It’s like watching someone mature and grow in real life but in a really compressed time frame.
Andrea Irwin brings so much energy to the role of Laura Ballan-Kohn, the Cardinal’s second friend, a political science professor. She’s smart, funny and completely devoted to the cause. Underneath the bravado there’s a sadness and fear that’s almost tangible. Who knows if she and O’Neill like, or even know each other in real life. On the stage, their friendship seems real.
There’s a third friend, the one who causes the disappearances of the other two. Lawrence Aronovitch, as General Angelo Flores, is terrific as a man torn between needing to prove to the other generals that he could get the job done and needing absolution from Iglesias, his childhood friend. You could feel his inner conflict and vulnerability.
I also like the way that Margaret Spence’s costumes for the females reinforces the characters. Gutierrez is very much the female journalist circa 2010-ish in casual pants, a long sleeve shirt, black denim vest, and a backpack. Ballan-Kohn is early 80’s professional woman in black trouser and turtleneck, a hot yellow short jacket with shoulder pads and big gold buttons, portfolio in hand.
I could go on and on about Omission, it’s a wonderful production and I really enjoyed it, but you should go see it for yourself. You won’t regret it.
- Omission is playing until February 3, 2018 at Alumnae Theatre (70 Berkeley St)
- Show times: Wednesday through Saturday at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 2:00 pm, Tuesday January 23 at 2:00 pm
- Tickets are $25.00, $12.50 on Wednesday, PWYC on Sunday (cash only at the box office)
- Tickets are available online, and at the box office
Photo of Evan Walsh and Thomas O’Neill by Bruce Peters