Family drama play out in The Sad Blisters playing at the Common Space in Toronto
The Sad Blisters is one of those family stories that make you realize that your family may not be the strangest one around and that other people had tougher childhoods than you did. Wait, wait! Keep reading. It isn’t a downer at all. I have a theory that in dysfunctional families with more than two kids, when the chips are down the kids either band together to protect each other or they throw each other under the bus. When they’re adults the ones who protected each other may squabble and disagree but in the end they are always there for each other. On Thursday evening at The Commons Theatre four sisters were there for each other.
They squabbled and laughed and cried and screamed and reminisced along the way. There were hugs and kisses and an attempted strangling and in the end sisterly love prevailed. The late playwright Andrew Batten loosely based the play on his wife’s sisters, one of whom married three times, each time to a man named John. Definitely a good starting place for a story. Batten wrote really authentic women’s voices. My friend Marg, who hadn’t paid attention to the playwright’s name, assumed it was written by a woman.
In a nutshell, it’s Joanne’s (Esther Thibault) wedding day, her third. She’s been married to Ricky, Rick and now is marrying Richard. She wants her three sisters – the bridesmaids – Maureen (Andrea Lyons), Kathy (Cate McKim) and Lisa (Anne McDougall) to each wear a dress from one of her previous weddings. Maureen thinks it’s fine, Lisa doesn’t seem to care, and Kathy thinks there shouldn’t even be a wedding and no way is she wearing a dress if there is. Aunt Sara (Bonnie Gray) has discovered ice wine and is happy about everything.
I’ve been thinking about what I liked most about the play. Not an easy choice. Certainly the writing, the dialogue is natural, something I love. I can imagine being in a room and being part of those conversations. The character development is terrific. The back stories of each character were revealed slowly. We got to understand their motivations, their fears, and what drove their relationships with each other. This might make it sound like a heavy drama. It isn’t. There’s a lot of humour. There is drama too. What’s a wedding day without drama?
Another thing I loved was that not everything was tied up in a neat bow at the end. There wasn’t a guaranteed happily ever after. There weren’t any slick, quick answers. There’s lots of room for imagination.
The acting was terrific. I loved Gray’s Aunt Sara. She embodied the surrogate mother who isn’t bothered by much and who knew all the old stories and when to tell them. She was wonderful at staying on that fine line between having had a bit too much to drink and being drunk.
All of the sisters had a different relationship with each other. It was fascinating to watch Lyons as Maureen, the peacemaker. She was always positive and always trying to keep the peace, but in a different way with each sister. Not an easy thing to do. With Lisa she was gentle and protective; she didn’t really understand Kathy but they laughed a lot together; and she bowed down to Joanne, the boss. The shift from that to sheer rage at Joanne was amazing. Under it all though she projected a sense of sadness.
As soon as McKim came on stage as Kathy it was obvious that she was the rebel. The black jeans, t-shirt and blazer were a dead giveaway in a sea of pastels. I loved the way she and Lyons interacted. Kathy angry with Joanne, Maureen trying to explain Joanne’s motives, then both of them laughing, their closeness evident. Her pleasure when she hears how well Lisa is doing was heart warming. The tension between her and Joanne is so thick it’s like a fog that neither of them can see through. As Joanne melts down Kathy visibly softens towards her.
McDougall’s Lisa is a bit of a cipher, a tough thing to carry off. We know a fair amount about her from the other characters but it takes a while for her to seem relaxed. When she does start participating she tells stories about when she and their late brother were young. Her body changes as she starts to feel stronger, she carries herself straighter. Her voice changes when she agrees with Kathy, disagreeing with Joanne.
I can always tell that an actor is giving a really good performance when I hate them – really their character not them personally. I hated Thibault playing Joanne. Arrogant, self-centered, bossy older sister, has the answers to everyone’s lives, doesn’t hear a thing anyone else is saying. She went from that to rage to sobbing contrition without missing a beat.
All impressive performances. I felt as if I knew these women. Director Victoria Shepherd has led a terrific cast in a wonderful show about real life.
There are only a couple of performances of The Sad Blisters left. It’s worth making time to go and see it. Marg and I really enjoyed it. Your best bet for tickets might be email.
- The Sad Blisters is playing until April 27, 2019 at The Common Space (587a College St., )
- Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm and Saturday matinee at 2:00 pm. The play runs approximately 80 minutes.
- Tickets are $20 reg; $15 Students/Seniors/Arts Workers
- Tickets are available online, by email, or at the door (cash only at the door)
Photo of Esther Thibault and Andrea Lyons by Vic Finucci