The Victoria Theatre Guild brings audiences to the brink of domestic catastrophe in the Western Canadian premiere of That Face by Polly Stenham.
This drama about the dark side of domestic life tells the story of a dysfunctional family of four — the mentally ill addict mother Martha (played both delicately and devilishly by Kirsten Van Ritzen), the pill-stealing, mischief-making daughter Mia (played by UVic Pheonix Theatre student Melissa Taylor), the drop-out new-man-of-the-house teenage son Henry (played by Michael Bell), and the lives-in-Hong-Kong-with-his-much-younger-new-wife-and-baby father Hugh (played by Michael King). When Mia gets kicked out of boarding school for a reckless act that lands another student in the hospital, the sad state of the family boils to the surface and Hugh is forced to come back to England to make things right (read: get Martha some treatment for her mental health issues).
For some, this story might seem like its about all those families your parents told you not to associate with. For others, it will hit pretty close to home. The story is both devastating and explosive, yet incredibly tender and, at times, humorous — something Van Ritzen, who’s widely known for her work as an improviser and stand up comic, says attracted her to the role.
Van Ritzen also called the chance to play diabolic Martha the “role of a lifetime,” and I’m glad she took it. Her take on Martha is at times meek, but more monstrous — giving a rare inside look at a woman on the edge of insanity, who has so much love and so much hatred in her heart. She even held it together and managed to keep the audience’s attention, in spite of a relentless ringing cellphone in the height of the drama in the closing scene on opening night.
Melissa Taylor handles the role of Mia with maturity, providing a sobering look at the life of a modern teenager facing modern challenges — like prescription pharmaceuticals.
Michael Bell brings strength, intensity and incredible vulnerability to the role of young Henry, left to care for his mother in what has devolved into a borderline incestuous relationship.
The set, designed by Lisa Preston and built by lead scenic carpenter Bill Adams, hit the mark, with the family “home” (more of a hovel) having the warmth of a city parkade. Faux-concrete finish painting by Adams cemented that cold, grey atmosphere.
For such a stark, bare set, it is easily transformed from a one-bedroom apartment into a hospital room and a loft across town thanks to clever design by both Preston and lighting designer Adam Wilkinson.
Costume choices, including Marha’s stained, cream-coloured nightgown, were bang-on by Nicole Bobick.
The choice to mount this dank, dark production was a daring one — one that deserves to play to a packed house for the entire run. Don’t miss this chance to discover a new Langham Court. M
Langham Court Theatre (805 Langham Court)
Runs Tues. to Sat. at 8pm
Matinees Jan. 26 and Feb. 2 at 2pm
Tickets are $21/19
Jan. 22 and 29: 2 for $30