Set against a backdrop of mountains and mythical beasts, The Valley’s four characters circle the stage and tell their stories, exposing fears, beliefs and prejudices toward the police and mental illness.
The stone-like stage, designed by Pam Johnson, sets a solid foundation for their interaction.
UVic professor and playwright, Joan MacLeod, knows how to delve into the personality and gut-wrenching emotions of her characters, unfortunately, this production at the Belfry Theatre lets the writing down in some aspects.
While it may be linked to opening night jitters, the cast – aside from Matt Reznek’s Connor, around who’s sink into depression the play surrounds – feels forced.
The Valley, which MacLeod herself admits is not the easiest subject matter for audiences to absorb, has some very funny moments and the performances are aided by subtle, but defining, costume changes and masterful lighting by lighting designer Itai Erdal.
Reznek’s performance carries the show. Connor is sharp-tongued and biting but can also be seen struggling to be his own person, despite his mother’s controlling personality. He is in touch with Connor’s moods and brings the audience into his despair and anger without becoming maudlin.
Colleen Wheeler’s portrayal of the mother Sharon is aloof and unemotional making her difficult for the audience to connect with. At one point Sharon shouts at Connor, “You’re scaring me,” but the words don’t ring true.
Rebecca Auerbach’s Janie is an acceptable portrayal of a woman stressed by new motherhood and depression. There were frequent glimmers of authenticity in Auerbach’s performance, however, she too, appeared detached from the core of her character and a pivotal scene between Janie and Connor suffered from Auerbach’s apparent rush through the dialogue.
The Valley’s two acts flow smoothly with characters connecting one scene to the next with looks across the stage, as the story unfolds through MacLeod’s interesting and intense dialogue.
The physical struggle between Reznek and Dan the cop, smartly played by Luc Roderique, is believable and shocking enough to bring the audience to the edge of their seats, while avoiding being overly dramatic.
The Valley is a good story with a timely and interesting message, well-told by MacLeod in a way that explores the subtleties of mental illness and depression without being sentimental.
Hopefully the cast will warm up to their characters throughout the run of the performance and give MacLeod’s words their due.
The Valley is at the Belfry Theatre to Feb. 28.