Canadian stage veterans power production that ultimately satisfies
What: Things I Know to Be True
Where: CAA Theatre, 651 Yonge St.
When: Now, extended until Sun., Feb. 26
Highlight: Opening monologue by Alanna Bale sets tone of acting excellence
Rating: NNNN (out of 5)
Why you should go: Stellar cast elevates flawed script.
The Company Theatre’s production of Australian playwright Andrew Bovell’s Things I Know to Be True, which opened this weekend presented by Mirvish, is a perfect example of a stellar cast lifting a flawed script to almost undeserved heights.
In a cast sprinkled with Stratford veterans and anchored by two of Canada’s most accomplished actors (Tom McCamus and Seana McKenna) as the aging parents at the core of this kitchen-sink family drama, the performers create an audience connection that exceeds the sometimes overly melodramatic script.
Alanna Bale plays Rosie, the couple’s 20-something daughter, one of their four troubled adult children we will eventually meet on a set that features the family kitchen as well as a rose garden feverishly attended by the father looking to fill days now empty after a buyout from his autoworker job. The play opens with Rosie lamenting a find-yourself European adventure that went seriously and heartbreakingly awry, sending her scurrying home to her somewhat smothering family for healing.
It’s a spellbinding monologue that manages to never lag, instead establishing a deep connection between the character and the audience that remains throughout the play’s two-and-a-half hours.
Back home in the family kitchen, Rosie is reunited first with her mother, then her father and then the rest of the family members who chaotically assemble to welcome and gathers in the family kitchen; the back-and-forth is expertly powered by sharp performances by all.
At this point, the play is full of promise as hints of further drama are peppered throughout the interplay. Unfortunately, as each character announces the challenges they are processing, we will learn these details never really evolve any deeper than headlines. We never really get the full story or development of any one of the siblings’ personal dramas, each one’s tale enough to propel its own play.
But anchoring the family and the production are McCamus and McKenna’s jaw-dropping performances as a couple in their mid-60s reviewing a lifetime of choices while contemplating what they currently have and what lies ahead.
In the hands of these pros, the performances are never sentimental or cliched, even if the writing sometimes is. McCamus and McKenna don’t give us a pair of doddering seniors fumbling with their iPhones and complaining about social media; instead, we get nuanced performances that ring true and authentic in the hands of masterful actors.
Christine Horne is achingly real as the oldest sibling, Pip, and one contemplating a seismic life change. Michael Derworiz and Daniel Maslany are almost as strong as the two brothers, although the script leaves Maslany, in particular, little opportunity to fully develop his character.
A lot of the promising energy of the first act is dissipated in a second act that never achieves momentum. Plot details are announced rather than shown and the actors battle to keep the show from devolving into melodrama.
Skilled direction from director Philip Riccio who — along with actor Allan Hawco also heads up the play’s production company, The Company Theatre — helps the actors achieve pacing and authenticity that eclipses the work.
Despite foundational flaws in the script, a stellar cast — especially the thoughtful, nuanced and deeply believable leads — make this a production that deserves to be seen.