And So It Goes
Written & Directed by George F. Walker
Starring Martha Burns, Peter Donaldson, Jerry Franken & Jenny Young
Factory Theatre, Toronto
Continues to February 28
George F. Walker's latest play, And So It Goes, unfolds in a succession of brief scenes, and it's that format - and the flashes of humour in the superbly written dialogue - that keep the piece from becoming too dark. It is, after all, dark material that it explores. Ned (Donaldson) has lost his job at an age where few are willing to look at him, and in an era where the opportunities are few to begin with. His daughter Karen (Young) is locked in a druggy schizophrenic hell where brushes with police and the judicial system have become routine. Gwen, (Burns) the wife and mother, tries to carry on through sheer will and the help of her own secret therapist, the ghost of none other than Kurt Vonnegut (Franken). Son Alex, who appears only in mention, left the scene long ago. (Donaldson - standing, and Burns consult with Franken's Vonnegut in the image.)
Things go from bad to worse. The house they live in becomes a series of ever smaller apartments, Ned flunks chef school and Karen runs away, disappears to go back to hooking on the street, where the police don't even try to find her anymore, until she turns up as yet another sad statistic. So what do you do when when the very underpinnings of your life give way, and you're left with nothing but despair and a palpable sense of grief? (Young as Karen in the image.)
It must be something of a challenge as an actor to so fully flesh out your role in the brief scenes and snippets of dialogue in Walker's play, but the casting here is virtually perfect. Donaldson and Burns, both veterans of the stage, don't have a false note as the parents who go from trying to manage and move on to simply trying to get through the day, morphing from middle class respectability to dirty denizens of the street and homeless shelters. Jenny Young turns in a wonderful performance as Karen, showing us the sad, confused soul inside the craziness. Franken has perhaps the hardest role of all, since his imaginary character is a reflection of those who imagine him, and provides much of the play's humour in the role of the self satisfied auteur. They're aided by an ingenious minimalist set design by Shawn Kerwin, consisting of a dimensional backdrop that handily switches from living room to park to street side and homeless shelter with a few props here and there. (The wall that was postered with Reg Hartt notices was my favourite touch!)
The house was deservedly packed for opening night. It's gritty, but not depressing, and while I wouldn't exactly go as far as to call it uplifting, it does speak to the strength of the human spirit, to that determination to continue and find purpose in life in the face of the worst of it. Walker's script is nuanced and keenly observant of human nature. You'll laugh as you sympathize, and you really must see it.
All the images are by Ed Gass-Donnelly, courtesy of Factory Theatre.