Sunday, January 28, 2007

"Half-Life" at Canadian Stage

John Mighton's delicate and lovely play "Half-Life" is being revived in this subscription season of the Canadian Stage Company. For my wife and me, it is what will have redeemed the season, which has featured several OK plays and at least one awful one.
"Half-life" is the time for a radioactive material to lose half its radioactivity, so is a measure of decay and there is a way in which this is a play about decay. But seen from a point of view in which radioactivity is not something one wants, one could put the emphasis the other way. And the play brilliantly balances the two things. Two people fall in love in a senior citizens' home, and it is their children, in the middle of life, who have the greatest difficulty with it. Around this, Mighton tosses in wonderful dialogue to make one wonder about the virtues of forgetting (I have always thought forgetting was an enormous component of how I remain as happy as I do) - in fact his characters who remember have the worst problems.
The play portrays children as full of an immediate joy we can no longer have after a certain point in life (I agree), except perhaps as one becomes quite old (again portrayed in the play). But the point I thought put best was the one that the joy of those middle years is the notion of 'bittersweet'; and I had recent experience - the scenes I loved most in 'The Queen' had me simultaneously laughing and close to tears.
I got the feeling it is an utterly lovely play. The only reason I do not say this categorically is that it was in far too large a theatre for such an intimate play, and that it was a noisy audience night, characterized by ill-placed coughs covering key dialogue, and also that some people right behind us insisted on laughing like hyenas at gentle jokes, sighing unnecessarily, and yapping amongst themselves over dialogue far better than what they offered. This is not unrelated to the venue being too large. So in the end I did not hear the whole play.
The effect is that I will work very hard to find a suitable production some day. I hope soon.
The cast were utterly great across the board. And not unlike 'The Queen', this is a piece of art with compassion for everyone in it.
What amazed me is that there was no standing ovation. For Heaven's sake, "Hair" got one last year! What is this? And I do not mean there should have been one - I do not - but I have seen so many there should not have been, it makes me wonder how this play lost out.
I recommend it utterly. If you can see it go see it.


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