Stage Door Review

Forty-Seven

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

✭✭

by Deanna Kruger, directed by Rebecca Cuthbertson

Here For Now Theatre Company, Falstaff Family Centre, Stratford

July 21-31, 2022

Trish: “It’s hard being a person”

The doughty Here For Now Theatre Company has embarked on its third summer festival, this year presenting nine one-act plays, of which seven are world premieres. Unlike the previous two seasons, this season will be presented indoors at the Falstaff Family Centre at 35 Waterloo Street in Stratford, a neo-Gothic building from 1929 saved from destruction by Stratford-based singer/composer Loreena McKennitt.

The room where the plays are staged seats 54 on tiered rows. The space does not have the open feeling of last year’s location under a marquee at the Bruce Hotel, but it is air-conditioned and has the great advantage of protection from the changeable weather of summer.

The third show to premiere of the 2022 season is the 75-minute-long play Forty-Seven by Deanna Kruger. If Kruger’s name seems somehow familiar, her play Janet and Louise was part of HFNT’s 2021 season. Like the earlier play, Forty-Seven is also a female two-hander, this time involving two sisters.

The play begins with Trish (Kristin Gauthier) telling an unknown person about her late father’s habit of taking a picture of her on every one of her birthdays until she was 46. Trish says her 11th birthday was especially memorable and seeing the photo brings back everything that happened on that day. Now she is just about to turn 47 and her father has died and won’t be there to take her birthday photo.

We next see Trish sleeping on a couch in her father’s apartment. Her younger sister Maddy (Martha Farrell) enters and is worried that Trish has been sleeping there rather than in Trish’s own apartment. Both visit their father’s apartment because they need to clean it out by the end of the month.

Designer Bonnie Deakin has created a telling difference in the sisters’ modes of dress. Trish, who worked for a nature park as a guide, wears jeans a T-shirt and has put on a plaid shirt of her father’s. Maddy, who show clients model kitchens, is stylishly dressed in black pants and a matching jacket with a sleeveless top in a modern print. Maddy wears makeup; Trish does not. Maddy’s hair is styled. Trish’s is a mess. In fact, as Maddy notices, it looks like Trish has not been taking care of herself for weeks, indeed since their father died.

The first of many questions that the first few minutes of the play raise is “Why the death of her father having such a devastating impact on Trish, but, seemingly, not on Maddy?” “Why has Trish quit her job just weeks after being promoted to a full-time position?” “Why is Trish so adamant that she not have a photo taken on her 47th birthday even though the tripod and camera are at hand?” “What is the secret cause of resentment that Maddy has against Trish that ignites Maddy’s anger so quickly?”

The main frustrating aspect of Kruger’s play is that having raised these questions, she has the sisters discuss all manner of other topics – owl cries, Maddy’s husband and children, pine martens – without answering the questions. On the one hand, Kruger writes extraordinarily naturalistic dialogue, so much so that we feel we are eavesdropping on the private conversation of the two women. On the other hand, we keep expecting Kruger to guide us toward the answers to her questions at least bit by bit after she has raised them.

Minor conflicts develop between the sisters as we learn more about them, but the central portion of the play really tries our patience since the conversations, realistic as they are, seem to be heading nowhere. I was beginning to think Kruger would never get around to clearing up the mysteries she had established when, in the last 20 minutes, one by one each question is answered and Kruger establishes a sympathetic feeling that had been missing for the majority of the play.

While one source of frustration in Forty-Seven is Kruger’s the apparent aimlessness of the dialogue between the beginning and the end, another source is the way Kruger structures the action. Though the total length is short, Kruger divides the play into about 20 short scenes with blackouts in between. As Stephen Degenstein has designed them, these blackouts begin with a flash of light before going to black. It would seem that director Rebecca Cuthbertson is trying to simulate the effect of a photograph, one of the main symbols of the play.

The problems with this are that the characters do not freeze when the flash of light occurs and, worse, that the breaks in the action usually seem completely unnecessary, one scene often picking up exactly where the other left off before the blackout. Frequently it feels as if a scene is just starting to go somewhere when the blackout happens and dissipates whatever momentum the scene as built up. As a result, both in content and in style the central portion of the play feels devoid of tension and objective. The last section of the pay is noticeably more involving than the first, but that part is also interrupted with fewer blackouts.

Kristin Gauthier and Martha Farrell’s characters are not immediately likeable. We can see that Trish is still in mourning for her father but the anger she feels towards her superficially more successful sister appears unjustified and as long as we don’t know what, beyond her father death, is causing her wretchedness we can’t sympathize with her. Our initial impression of Maddy, untouched as she seems to be by her father’s death, is that Maddy is not a caring person, someone more interested in her business and children than in anything else.

Our first impressions of both prove faulty. Farrell soon shows that Maddy is a very warm, caring person who is being pushed away by Trish, and as we discover, by others. Farrell lets us see that Maddy could get along with Trish if Trish would only let her.

Kristin Gauthier has a difficult part. She has to portray Trish as a whining, self-absorbed, unsociable person whose grieving has taken the form of being unkind to others. Gauthier gives hints that there may be another kind of person lurking within this self-concerned woman we see, but Kruger doesn’t allow this side of Trish out until the very end.

Trish cites studies (for the National Bureau of Economic Research in 2020) that the absolute low point for a person’s happiness comes at age 47. That may be why Kruger chose this age for the focus of her play, though Trish’s depression was triggered by the death of her father which could have happened at any age. In The Importantance of Being Earnest, Lady Bracknell speaks of “statistics ... laid down for our guidance”, and we don’t know with how much irony Trish believes that these studies explain her moodiness.

Yet, Kruger ends her play with such a burst of warmth and reconciliation that we wish she could have built toward it gradually rather than saving it as a surprise. Kruger depicts the interaction of the two sisters with such realism and detail that it is better to approach Forty-Seven not as a plot-driven story but as a double portrait of two women who may be sisters but who discover even greater bonds between them.

Christopher Hoile

Photos: Kristin Gauthier as Trish and Martha Farrell as Maddy; Martha Farrell as Maddy and Kristin Gauthier as Trish. © 2022 Terry Manzo.

For tickets visit www.herefornowtheatre.com.