My Two Cents
By Lillian Jasper
What is THIS? It’s many things. It’s a slice of life - a group of privileged New Yorkers dealing with mid-life crises, toying with adultery and grieving the death of someone dear to them. It’s hardly an original premise, but the performances are simply marvellous and the writing is so sharp that I was immediately engaged and invested. Playwright Melissa James Gibson clearly has a gift for dialogue. Under William Dow’s direction, the show is expertly paced. Lines are delivered rapid-fire with just enough time for the jokes to land before moving onto to the next. The heavier moments resonate with great impact and don’t feel forced despite the potential for melodrama. The technical elements are all on point - solid lighting from Sean Malmus, a simple but versatile set from Mark McDonald, and even a little bit of smoky jazz music, courtesy of Peter Eldridge.
As Jane, Loretta Walsh is the wide-eyed emotional anchor of the show. She doesn’t get as many clever quips as her cast-mates, but she’s an amazingly expressive performer. In one of the play’s most poignant scenes, she shows how much goes on behind a simple smile. Karen Holness is strong and grounded as new mother Marrell (she previously played the role in 2011 for the show’s Canadian premiere). Holness is a master of subtlety, with nuanced authenticity in every word and glance. It’s a treat to watch they two women play together, especially since the men supporting them are equally good, though they don’t have as much to do. The show’s scene-stealer is most assuredly Benjamin Ratner as Alan. He’s playing a broad stereotype, but he’s so effortlessly engaging and self-effacing that we understand why he’s remained a part of this close-knit circle of friends for so many years. His delivery of the material is spot on - quick, confident and committed. Brad Dryborough does well as Tom, though I found his character much less sympathetic/likeable than the others. Zak Santiago imbues the sexy-Frenchman trope of Jean-Pierre with breezy confidence and affable smugness, though his accent is a bit off, which can be distracting at times.
THIS seems on the surface about a group of self-obsessed, shallow friends unable to cope with the unfortunate realities of real life. It’s more than that - the vague title only serves to hammer home the point that we are often unable to articulate feelings we have and define the situations we find ourselves in. Amidst the many laughs and crisp dialogue of THIS, there are several moments that go unexpectedly deep in challenging the privilege of these educated, reasonably well-off individuals. THIS could easily be just another generic play about verbose, middle-class New Yorkers with mundane problems. But it’s elevated by the excellent performances, crisp direction, witty dialogue, and the ability to confront its own triviality. I was never bored, and laughed constantly. I highly recommend it.