And So It Goes story of mental illness and struggle is timely but a bit too flawed | The Star

And So It Goes story of mental illness and struggle is timely but a bit too flawed | The Star

Written and directed by George F. Walker. Until May 26 at the Pia Bouman Scotiabank Studio Theatre, 6 Noble St. Andsoitgoes.brownpapertickets.com

This very dark comedy from the venerable playwright George F. Walker premiered in 2010, a couple of years after the bottom fell out of the global economy. It follows the downward slide of a middle-class, middle-aged couple trying and failing to cope with their daughter’s mental illness. Nine years later, its evocation of a world where sense is unravelling resonates anew.

While Walker’s own production of his script is wobbly, there are moments in the second half in which Deborah Drakeford’s goggle-eyed, near-unhinged, and yet relentlessly perky performance intersects with today’s zeitgeist. Those moments put me in mind of Christine Baranski’s character arc in Season 2 of The Good Fight, microdosing on psilocybin, hallucinating Trump sightings, and just … giggling.

For Drakeford’s grief-stricken Gwen, it’s white wine rather than mushrooms, and her fates have declined much further than high-budget TV drama would likely allow. She and her husband Ned (Dan Willmott) are living in a shelter, and her imaginary friend Vonnegut (Scott McCulloch), an imagined version of the dead famous novelist, has become an almost constant companion.

This revival is produced by indie outfit Kyanite Theatre, one of a number of small and startup companies with which Walker has worked to produce a big burst of his recent writing. While the company has recruited some solid established acting talent in Drakeford, Willmott and McCulloch, producer Tyshia Drake is shouty and un-nuanced as the aggressive, tragic daughter Karen. There are concerns throughout about performers not listening deeply and responding to each other: relationships are left for the audience to imagine rather than evoked through performances.

This gets better as things goes along, and there are exchanges in the second act where one imagines the production this may become, as the balance of caustic humour and social comment settles into place. While Walker treats some favoured themes here — mental illness, taking seriously the lives of the socially marginal — this is a striking play from him, more emotionally exposed in its bleakness and less reliant on farce than other recent work. The device of Vonnegut is inspired and McCulloch’s scenes with Drakeford are the production’s best (though first presenting them next to each other on a sofa rather than face to face on chairs confuses the introduction of their relationship).

Kelly Wolf’s physical design is rudimentary, signalling a very small budget: newspaper-covered flats stationed at various places around a bare playing space, a minimum number of pieces of furniture to sit on. Chin Palipane’s lighting doesn’t always complement or inform the scenes: it doesn’t seem right that Ned’s dimly lit in a monologue when he’s taking society to task. Jeremy Hutton’s sound design of rock and pop clips goes some way to creating segues between short scenes but the rhythm of the production is nonetheless choppy.

And so goes Walker’s late career, it seems: still writing prolifically, working in a mentorship context with younger artists (associate producer Martha Moldaver is also the assistant director), keeping on keeping on, just like these characters.

Karen Fricker is a Toronto-based theatre critic and a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @KarenFricker2

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Credit: And So It Goes story of mental illness and struggle is timely but a bit too flawed | The Star