A play by Joan MacLeod igniting conversations about mental health is now on stage in Toronto
The Valley by Don’t Look Down Theatre Company hopes to ignite conversations about mental health. It’s taking place in Theatre Passe Muraille’s (16 Ryerson Ave.) backspace until September 23, 2018 and I thought it made for a memorable show.
The Passe Muraille Backspace is tiny and chilly from the AC. The tough content of this show certainly won’t warm you, but perhaps the dialogue it inspires will. This is a show about four characters in Vancouver and how their lives are affected by mental illness.
To me, The Valley has two themes that stand out. The first is encouraging viewers to start a conversation about mental health, and the second is exploring the relationship between law enforcement and people with mental illness.
I do feel that the show engaged me in thinking about mental health. I felt that the character Connor’s (Daniel Entz) experience was, in many ways, representative of experiences I had throughout my undergrad. The relationship between Connor and his mother (Nicole Fairbairn) was very relatable for me. Moreover, The Valley inspired me to think about others’ perspectives in approaching mental illness.
I thought that all of the characters were well-acted. Alexa Higgins in particular won me over as Janie; I felt extremely sympathetic towards this character. While I couldn’t relate to the bulk of her experience as a new mother and former addict, I really felt for her. I was glad to be shown her perspective.
I was a bit disappointed by the character Dan, the police officer. He was well-acted by Cedric Martin, but the writing for him bothered me. The show’s central plot revolves around Dan violently beating Connor into submission. He feels little remorse for his actions, and for the rest of the show, he ignores the plight of his wife (Janie) at home as she suffers from postpartum depression. I think it sends a useful message to portray this character as the antagonist; however, I do feel that the writing for him lacked the nuance that the other characters brought to the ensemble.
A small issue that I had was that none of the moments of levity landed. This is a very serious show, and the actors were deep into character, so I can’t fault them too much. However, there were quite a few lines that seemed like jokes meant to relieve tension, but were delivered flatly.
I was particularly impressed with how well this show is staged. All four actors are onstage throughout the show, but the small Passe Muraille Backspace never feels crowded. Nobody takes up too much space and when characters need to seem small, the staging adjusts. This was some great work on the part of director Ryan James.
The Valley is a thoughtful show and many parts of it resonated with me. I think that overall it is a great show coming from Don’t Look Down Theatre Company, and I look forward to seeing what they put out next.
- The Valley is playing at (16 Ryerson Ave.) until September 23, 2018.
- Showtimes are Wed to Sat at 7:30 pm Wed – Sat, with Sat and Sun matinees at 2:00 pm.
- Tickets are $25 with Student and Arts Worker discounts.
- You can buy the tickets online or at the front door.
- Run time is 90 minutes, including a 15 minute intermission.
- Audience Advisory: Contains violence, coarse language.
Photo of Daniel Entz, Nicole Fairbairn, Alexa Higgins, Cedric Martin