THE SUM OF ITS PARTS
The first hour of Joan MacLeod's recent play The Valley feels like an unfamiliar old soap opera you have never seen before and have trouble understanding just what the characters are going through. If the playwright is familiar with the kind of turmoil she explores in her new family drug and depression drama it is not easily apparent in the opening sixty minutes. Re-shaping and editing half the first act into a more concise and engaging thirty minute back story for the four interconnected characters could make this meandering two hour narrative into a sharp and explosive interrogation of familial relations, addiction, depression, and the particluar battles confronted by individuals living in our westernmost metropolis. But the metaphors of valley and mountain never quite take off, and the explosive scenes that save the play at the end of the day are just placed too late to make the overall experience a totally fulfilling one. But, alas, this could be the nature of the play and its subject matter - that long mind numbing journey through addiction, disbelief, despondency, depression, what have you - and the violent confrontations with the problematic yet frequently necessary policing of these timeworn battles.
Direction by Richard Rose is superb, as he arranges his cast onstage for the entire piece, giving the final scenes an intense, cloistered and claustrophobic kind of group therapy effect where everyone sees everything and everybody all of the time, thereby allowing them to witness the intersections and inter-connectedness that the formula for the play depends upon, yet only fully attains in the final scenes. Set design by Graeme S. Thomson is superb as a semi in-the-round effect, with furniture arranged so nothing is missed, heightens the directors attention to triangular and intense emotional and physical confrontation at the core of the two very separate yet related narratives. But the laying out of the back stories just moves much too slowly into the real action of the second half.
Performances by an ensemble cast are stellar. All of the actors move effortlessly, with great emotional power and grace through somewhat banal opening conversations toward a very powerful climax. But the connections and the topical details are too often left up to thinly constructed metaphors and plot lines that do not do the city of Vancouver and its diverse population justice. The Valley begins with too many lows, and when the highs are finally achieved they are moving, beautifully written, and beautifully performed, but bogged down by the sum of this plays many layer-less parts.
THE VALLEY RUNS AT TARRAGON THEATRE UNTIL DECEMBER 15TH