Weighty af­fair

NOW Magazine - - STAGE - TREvOR CAMPbELL

LO (OR DEAR MR. WELLS) by Rose ñ

Napoli (Night­wood Theatre/Crow’s Theatre). At Streetcar Crowsnest (345 Car­law). Runs to Novem­ber 11. $25, stu/srs $20. crow­sthe­atre.com. See Con­tin­u­ing, page 58. Rat­ing: NNNN

Lo (Or Dear Mr. Wells) is the sec­ond and fi­nal play in Night­wood Theatre’s Con­sent Event, a two-play se­ries which ex­plores the in­ter­sec­tion of sex­u­al­ity and con­sent.

Play­wright Rose Napoli ex­am­ines th­ese is­sues through the eyes of Laura (Vivien Endi­cott-Dou­glas), a young woman look­ing back on her un­der­age af­fair with a high school English teacher whom she calls Mr. Wells (Sam Kalilieh). At 15, Laura is gifted and pre­co­cious, and Mr. Wells be­comes a sur­ro­gate for much of what’s miss­ing in her life: a fa­ther, a sup­porter and a friend.

Of course Laura now knows he was none of those things. Not re­ally. Her retelling re­peat­edly switches be­tween the Laura of the past and the present, show­ing us the evo­lu­tion of her re­la­tion­ship with Mr. Wells whilst com­ment­ing on its poi­sonous down­turns. Napoli’s tightly crafted script gives us com­pli­cated char­ac­ters that avoid the clichés of preda­tor and prey. Mr. Wells is un­doubt­edly dan­ger­ous but gen­uinely in­ter­ested in the prodi­gious tal­ent of his stu­dent, and Laura is far from pas­sive, though still very much a vic­tim of as­sault. Napoli shows us the con­flicted ways in which Laura con­vinces her­self she’s still in con­trol, though we know it’s an il­lu­sion. De­spite weighty ma­te­rial, both ac­tors have crafted a po­tent, emo­tional re­la­tion­ship. They’re con­stantly ad­just­ing them­selves in re­la­tion to one an­other, and their finely tuned re­ac­tions cre­ate a painfully be­liev­able jour­ney. Kalilieh shows us the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties of a villainous man, and Endi­cott-Dou­glas does double-duty as both a girl and the woman she be­came. Her quick shifts don’t rely on any support from lights or sound, but rather the clear choices of an ac­com­plished ac­tress.

Di­rec­tor An­drea Don­ald­son and as­sis­tant di­rec­tor Michelle Langille cre­ate a well-de­fined struc­ture that not only keeps the past and present clear but or­ches­trates a care­ful and dy­namic pro­gres­sion of thought and emo­tion. Napoli’s script is full of evoca­tive lan­guage, and it’s well uti­lized by ev­ery­one in­volved.

We need more play­wrights like Napoli. She’s a real tal­ent with some­thing pow­er­ful to say and the abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate it with can­dour and clar­ity. As Laura says to Mr. Wells, “Fic­tion is the drama­ti­za­tion of re­al­ity.” Lo (Or Dear Mr. Wells) re­minds us of the un­com­fort­able truths we must con­tinue to face.

Vivien Endi­cot­tDou­glas plays a woman in two dif­fer­ent life stages in Lo (Or Dear Mr. Wells).

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