Story of teen’s police takedown a tad too earnest
REVIEW What: The Valley Where: Belfry Theatre When: To Feb. 28 Rating: Three stars (out of five)
Being a cop was never easy. And these days, it’s trickier than ever.
The age of YouTube and iPhones means the police are constantly under surveillance. This is good in some ways. But sometimes, a blurry 20-second clip can be misleading. Was too much force used? Is a brutal take-down justified in some circumstances, even if it results in a death?
There’s also the question of how much we should expect police to function as social workers, as well as law enforcers.
In her 2013 play The Valley, Victoria dramatist Joan MacLeod examines the increasingly complex role of today’s cop. She also looks at depression and the (sometimes) thankless role of being the parent of a troubled teen struggling to find his place in the world.
An award-winning playwright with a national repu- tation, MacLeod is renowned for social-issue plays such as The Valley, Shape of a Girl and Amigo’s Blue Guitar. This kind of theatre can be illuminating and rewarding ( Shape of a Girl, about the Reena Virk murder, is a very fine play).
Yet no matter how well meant, didacticism is always a potential pitfall.
The Valley definitely has strengths: It is well-constructed, rendered with passion and sensitivity, brimming with compassion. For me, it was a touch earnest and preachy. This might be a matter of taste — Thursday night’s performance was rewarded with a standing ovation.
MacLeod presents each of four characters with unflagging fairness and compassion. One of her key messages is that everyone, no matter what their station in life, has a struggle and story that’s valid and deserving of respect.
Such a view is beyond reproach, of course. Yet at times, The Valley reminded me of being seated beside an earnest, socially conscious guest at a dinner party. A very nice social worker, perhaps. If this is the sort of company you rel- ish (again, a matter of taste), this drama is for you. Others might find it less compelling.
The Valley is about Connor (Matt Reznek), a gifted teen who has displayed precocious talent as a writer. Sadly, this sensitive young man finds his first year of university away from his Vancouver home too much to cope with. He drops out, to the dismay of his mother Sharon (Colleen Wheeler), a fiercely devoted single mom who works in a bookstore.
Things go from bad to worse. Connor has slipped into a depression that results in delusional behaviour. The play’s climax is a SkyTrain confrontation between the teenager and an ordinary-Joe police officer named Dan (Luc Roderique). Connor is brandishing some sort of weapon. Dan, following procedure, takes him down. Hard.
When it transpires that Connor is seriously injured, mom files a complaint, citing excessive force. Meanwhile, Dan’s own home life is chaotic. He’s chuffed about the birth of a son. But his wife, Janie (Rebecca Auerbach), is struggling with post-partum depression.
Each actor had strong moments. The performance commenced promisingly with a well-delivered monologue by Reznek, who as Connor came across as a funny, complex teenager. Certainly, MacLeod isn’t delivering two-dimensional characters; each is presented warts and all. Yet there’s a lingering sense that each is a “type” intended to personify an idea (something one finds in George Bernard Shaw’s plays).
Roy Surette has directed The Valley with confidence and sophistication. There’s plenty of back-and-forth scenes between mother/son and cop/wife. This presents a technical challenge. However, these transitions are handled with aplomb — music is used economically and cleverly for these shifts.
Pam Johnson’s set is dominated by a background, mostly blacks and greys, showing a comic-fantasy landscape with castles and mountains. Simple cement-look tables and platforms, used to represent a variety of locales, contrast well with this.
Matt Reznek and Colleen Wheeler in The Valley by Joan MacLeod: Each actor has strong moments.