Theatre Inconnu is breaking boundaries and teaching audiences how to laugh in the face of adversity in A Day in the Death of Joe Egg.
This unsettlingly honest look inside the stressful lives of a young middle-class couple raising their severely disabled 10-year-old daughter Joe (Similkameen O’Rourke) had the audience gasping in disbelief opening night. That reaction likely brought a smile to playwright Peter Nichols’ face as his characters poke fun at serious things in such a nonchalant way.
School teacher patriarch Brian, played by James McDougall who is quickly becoming a Theatre Inconnu regular (he recently appeared in both Simon Stephens’ Pornography and Coner McPherson’s Shining City), deals with the stress of insolent teenagers at work and a mute, mostly brain-dead and incontinent daughter at home by cracking vicious jokes to mask his desperation.
His optimistic wife Sheila, played by ray-of-sunshine Melissa Blank, often goes along with Brian’s shenanigans to help her hopeless husband cope, though truthfully the jokes are eating away at her and she is becoming resentful of Brian’s childish constant need for attention.
Right away it’s apparent that this is an ordinary family facing an extraordinary challenge. They are regular people attempting to manage the overwhelming task of taking care of Joe’s every need while battling their desires to be free of the unyielding responsibilities by placing Joe in a long-term care facility.
While they are in no way to blame for Joe’s condition, Sheila still partially blames herself for what happened and Brian’s over-bearing mother (convincingly portrayed by Geli Bartlett) attributes the problem to Shelia’s pre-marriage promiscuity.
Director Clayton Jevne has Sheila and Brian break the fourth wall almost right out of the gate to recount the story of Joe’s birth, taking us through doctor appointments, to meetings with clergy and specialists (all roles portrayed by McDougall). They take turns sharing their most intimate feelings with us (and not each other), giving us a glimpse of the pain, jealousy, lust, frustration, love and fear they’re feeling over their situation.
When Sheila comes home with Freddie (Graham McDonald) and the “human speaking clock” Pam (Lorene Cammiade in her Theatre Inconnu debut), a couple from her theatre troupe with three ‘normal’ children, the shit hits the proverbial fan.
The cast is outstanding in its ability to breath honesty and candour into the characters while maintaining the humanity that makes each one real.
Jevne does a great job working with the small stage at Little Fernwood Hall. The set, which he also designed, stays true to the setting — Bristol at Christmas in 1966 — with psychedelic wallpaper and macrame plant hangers. The costumes by Patricia Reilly are also rightfully retro.
Although this play is set in the ’60s, the humour, candour and the adversity facing the disabled and the people who treat them still holds true.
Joe Egg offers more questions than answers and more despair than hope. You’ll laugh, then question why you’re laughing. Then you’ll want to cry. M
A Day in the Death of Joe Egg
Little Fernwood Hall
Dec. 8, 9, 10, 14, 15, 16, 17 at 8pm and matinees Dec. 10, 11, 17 at 2pm
Thurs, Dec. 8
Theatre Inconnu also just announced its 2012-13 season and has an amazing deal on subscriptions until the end of the year (Jan.1)
Subscriptions are 50 percent off!
Four-Show Packages (including membership)
Adults: $28 (If purchased individually: $56)
Students and seniors: $20 (If purchased individually: $40)
Two-Show Packages (including membership)
Adults: $20 (If purchased individually: $28)
Students and seniors: $15 (If purchased individually: $20)
Go to www.theatreinconnu.com/season-tickets/ to find out how to get your hands on one of the most creative Christmas gifts around.
The 2012-13 season features:
The Crackwalker by Judith Thompson (March 2-17)
The Walworth Farce by Enda Walsh (June 1-16)
Blackbird by David Harrower (October 5-20)
Kafka The Musical (World Premiere stage adaptation, Nov.30- Dec. 15)