Story of teen’s po­lice take­down a tad too earnest

Times Colonist - - Life - ADRIAN CHAM­BER­LAIN acham­ber­lain@times­colonist.com

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.

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