Where You Are – warm comedy at Playhouse

MORRISBURG – “When you love someone, you want them where you are.”

Where You Are, which just opened the new season at Upper Canada Playhouse, is a production focused on love.

Of course, love can be contradictory, smothering, joyful, sometimes even hurtful, but, in Kristen Da Silva’s original play, it’s often hugely hilarious.

And on Manitoulin Island, no less!

The strong cast of Where You Are, under the direction of Jesse Collins, quickly establishes four rather wonderful characters, the sort of people you might – or perhaps hope to – meet one day.

“Kristen’s style is very similar to Norm Foster’s,” Collins explained during an earlier discussion. “It can be tough for a playwright to find natural speech rhythms and infuse them with pace and humour. She’s a terrific writer. She has a fresh, (Norm Foster calls it quirkiness) approach to her dialogue. It rings true with audiences.”

The four characters in Where You Are are memorable.

Suzanne is a free spirit, inclined (to say the least) to be outspoken, with (to say the least!) a decidedly healthy interest in men and relationships, serious or casual. As played by Debbie Collins, Suzanne is funny, endearing and blunt. To her more retiring daughter Beth, she remarks, the “only relationship I know you’ve had is with your cat.” She introduces Beth to Patrick the next door neighbour, and casually comments, “Patrick is a vet. Beth is a real doctor.”

Yet under her “outrageous” “scandalous” behaviour is a deep and abiding love for both her sister and for her serious daughter. “I packed every wish and dream into that little person.”

Glenda, Suzanne’s sister, played by Susan Greenfield, is the rock of the family. She never left Manitoulin Island after her late husband brought her there as a bride. Over all the passing years, she has never wanted to. It is into her arms that Beth, wounded by a failed love affair, runs. It is to Glenda that Suzanne actually listens when it comes to that daughter. (“You smothered her like it was an Olympic sport.”) Even Patrick, a neighbour, finds warm harbour with Glenda when she tells him, “if you need a safe place to pop off steam, you’ve found it.”

Yet there is a sadness lying at the heart of this character: the audience will gradually learn of this during the course of the play, and frankly, will only come to love Glenda more.

Patrick and Beth are the next generation, two “professionals” who for various reasons have suddenly found themselves in the awkward position of “living at home” again. Beth hilariously shouts to Glenda and Suzanne, at one point, “Don’t boundaries mean anything to you two!”

Well, maybe not on Manitoulin Island.

Beth and Patrick are both re-bounding from dismal love affairs. He was dumped “almost at the altar” for a “Vegan butcher.” She was abandoned by an older lover who could not handle her success.

Kevin Aichele and Caitlin Driscoll as Patrick and Beth would not seem initially to have a great deal in common, but a little skillful maneuvring, a little in-depth prying by mother and aunt, and finally, the dress that says “pour me another mojito and meet me in the linen closet” swiftly make all things possible.

“To me, romance is the showy stuff,” Beth tells Patrick one evening. For real love, “the other must matter more.” Eventually she will realize that it is the same for him.

Will Patrick and Beth find love?

The audience can be forgiven for ardently hoping so by the end of the play.

Manitoulin Island itself is a character in the play.

From the rooster who disturbs Suzanne’s rest (“I don’t need an animal that wakes me up. I need an animal that can do taxes.”), to Glenda’s thriving jam business, Da Silva creates for the audience a real sense of a real place.

Gossip is an often hilarious part of the landscape including who is now “gelling his hair for church” and who has started “putting his teeth in” on a regular basis. “Which church do we go to? The white one.”

Jesse Collins’ striking set certainly creates a sense of the Island and of the sisters’ life from the moment the lights go up.

Manitoulin Island is home.

Home is where the love is.

Home is also where the best and loudest laughter – and sometimes the quietest tears – are found.

Where You Are: on stage at the Playhouse until June 30.

Since you’re here…

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