Friday, 1 May 2009

Rhoma Spencer Directs "Our Lady of Spills"

The closed set of Our Lady of Spills (designed by Sylvia Temis and Monika Geresz) Photo by donna g

Rhoma Spencer founded Theatre Archipelago (she is also its Artistic Director) in 2004 in order to present plays from the Caribbean and its Diaspora to Canadian audiences. Playing until May 10th, Edwige Jean-Pierre’s OUR LADY OF SPILLS, a two-hander with Jean-Pierre and Lorna Wilson. According to Spencer, the new home of Theatre Archipelago is Toronto’s “best kept secret”. Situated inside the Todmorden Mills Museum and Art Centre, the Papermill Theatre is the pleasant surprise at the end of a gallery showcasing some very lovely artwork. (Left: Spencer poses for me in front of one of my favourite pieces.)

Getting to the Papermill takes a bit of work if you don’t drive. Walking down Pottery Road’s decline to number 67 takes about 5 minutes (walking back up you’ll strengthen your thighs), but it’s well worth walk to see Jean-Pierre and Wilson’s duke it out in the boxing ring of a stage. Wilson plays a racist client (Lillian Holt), who has been placed unwilling in a nursing home. Jean-Pierre is the Haitian nurse (Sandrine) who must care for Lillian, all the while calling upon her Catholic upbringing and cultural respect for elders in order to deal with Lillian’s deprecating remarks about non-Canadians.

Other characters in the play are brought to life through dialogue with individuals that we do not see, but can easily imagine. Lillian Holt has conversations with her son (he’s married to a Japanese woman) and Sandrine tells stories and admonishes her daughter, Chloé, for fighting at school. We are also introduced to other clients at the home. These exchanges allow us to see into the private lives of Lillian and Sandrine even though the action takes place on the same set. The women share similarities and differences, but the characters themselves never realize this because of the barriers they construct to demonstrate control over their respective situations.

If the play has a weakness it's in the fact that Jean-Pierre as the playwright has created such a strong character in Lillian Holt, and Wilson gives such a powerful performance that Jean-Pierre (in the role of Sandrine) often gets knocked out by her own creation.

Despite its serious subject matter, Our Lady of Spills, offers enough observational laughs to move the play along. We recognize the racial conflict but never feel as if we are being hit over the head with pedantic lessons.

(Presented by Theatre Archipelago)
April 28th - May 10th
Papermill Theatre
67 Pottery Road
Tickets: $25, Sundays pay-what-you-can ($10 suggested minimum)
Box Office: person at TO TIX Dundas Square or at the theatre (1 hour before show time)
Show Times: 8PM (weeknights and Saturdays); 2:00 PM

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