Review: A Blow in the Face (Bald Ego Theatre/Nightwood Theatre)

A play by Lisa Ryder, now on stage in Toronto, tackles the topic of postpartum depression

A Blow in the Face, produced by Bald Ego Theatre in association with Nightwood Theatre, is an intimate tour through a young mother’s bout with postpartum depression. Uncompromising in its vision and attention to craft, the play continues in The Theatre Centre’s tradition of moving the artform forward.

Tess Degenstein is devastating in the impressive sense as Alice, an actress and mother to newborn Cooper, who thought parenthood would be more of a bird course. We meet her in the midst of an anxiety-spiral she can’t see a way out of. She has been wearing away at her will, ever more exhausted from bi-hourly breastfeeding, and ever more insecure about how this speaks to her fitness as a mother. Her yearning for pre-child freedom tempts her to contemplate ending her baby’s life.

Lisa Ryder and Selina Martin bounce off the walls as Cloudy and Fluff Pup, who arrive from another planet just as Alice’s thoughts turn dark. They bring with them slapstick humour and a carefree nature, acting as a tempering force to Alice’s self-doubt with a trickster’s sense of fun. They poke and prod at her motherly instincts, almost provoking them into reignition.

Ryder, also the playwright, conjures levity through her pen. She finds pockets for laughs at the height of tragedy, when empathy is most needed and the most uncomfortable to offer. The same can be said for director, choreographer, and set and costume designer, Monica Dottor, who creates moments of endearment out of situations where nothing works out as expected. The ball chair relaxation scene or when Fluff Pup sings the blues come to mind.

Jordan Pettle plays Alice’s husband with a lack of empathy you have to foster over a lifetime. He can see that she’s suffering, but doesn’t have the experience with mental disorders to make room for her psychic strain. He is unable to conceive of the magnitude of it. The window A Blow in the Face offers into postpartum depression is for all but largely for people like him.

My guest, Carson, was grateful for the insight into a condition he could never truly comprehend. He praised the distinctiveness of Dottor’s choreography, well worth the moniker of ‘otherworldly’ in Ryder and Martin’s hands. He also found Flupp Pup’s motivations a challenge to discern, although this did little to affect the considerable gravitas the play brings to its subject matter.

From a 10,000-foot view, A Blow in the Face cautions us about how stories, once internalized, are hard to distinguish from truth. Alice’s idealized version of parenthood is one such story. The further real life gets from it, the greater her disappointment, because she can no longer see how to modify her expectations. Sometimes we all need to be reminded that we can change our minds.

Details

  • A Blow in the Face plays until April 14 at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West).
  • Shows are Tuesday to Saturday at 8PM, with additional shows on Wednesdays at 1:30PM, and on weekends at 2:30PM.
  • Tickets are $25-$35 and can be purchased online, by calling 416-538-0988, or in person at the box office.
  • The show runs 70 minutes with no intermission.

Photo of Selina Martin, Tess Degenstein, and Lisa Ryder by Dahlia Katz.