THEATRE REVIEW: Problem Child
Problem-free play a phenomenon
New Ausable Theatre production a triumph
Starring: Rachel Holden-Jones, Tyler Parr, Julia Webb, Niall Cooke
Written by: George F. Walker
Directed by: Jeff Culbert
Production Company: Ausable Theatre
By Maggie Wrobel
These days, it's hard to go see a movie in the theatre and still be surprised by the plot. This is largely because movie trailers no longer act as teasers of the films they promote, but have instead become mini versions of the movies themselves, leaving very little (if anything) to the audience's imagination.
This relatively new phenomenon insults the viewer's intelligence, because it alleges that audiences need to be spoon-fed before they shell out any money for entertainment. Often, the trailer even misses the point of the movie, and makes it look completely unlike what it actually offers.
A review of Ausable Theatre's production of George F. Walker's modern drama Problem Child could easily fall into this trap.
To simply describe the plot of the play is to paint it as a movie-of-the-week melodrama that fails to do justice to the remarkable depth of the script.
To only make reference to the dark, violent events that occur onstage (and are suggested offstage) is to categorize it as a cold, heartless thriller, when the events are part of a more complex, psychological puzzle that cannot actually be solved.
Problem Child tells the story of a couple whose child has been taken away by the government due to allegations of neglect. All Denise (Rachel Holden-Jones, pictured at right) and R.J. Reynolds (Tyler Parr) can do is wait for the call from the social worker (Julia Webb as Helen Mackie) who is handling their case and, thus, holds the fate of their family in her hands.
It is Mackie who will decide whether Denise and R.J. are capable of caring for their child, despite a past that includes prostitution, drugs and R.J.'s incarceration.
The play is claustrophobic, both in the physical and emotional sense. Judy Bryant's clever set converts the modestly-sized stage of the Grand Theatre's McManus Studio into a motel room that allows the audience no escape. Though the characters may leave the setting for small amounts of time, their minds are always trapped in the small room anyway thinking about the phone call that is supposed to come, and the pending meeting with the social worker, which will likely be hopeless.
Thus, tensions run high between Denise and R.J., especially since his preoccupation with trashy television talk shows, such as Jerry Springer, dominates his time and infuriates his wife. Had it been treated more frivolously in the script, this fascination could have been nothing more than recurring comic relief.
However, Tyler Parr's sensitive and compassionate treatment of this "affliction" turns it into a skillful social commentary that momentarily brings tears of both laughter and sorrow.
Parr, whose most visible work in London thus far has been as a member of the comedy troupe Fully Insured, shows off distinctive dramatic talent in his turn as R.J.. He is exceedingly well-matched by the passionate Rachel Holden-Jones, whose performance is a terrifyingly heartbreaking achievement. Holden-Jones achieves the nearly impossible task of recruiting the audience's sympathy for the reckless, short-fused character of Denise.
The hilarious Niall Cooke appears as motel employee Phillie Phillips, a character that provides much needed comic relief and reveals a substantial amount of hidden dramatic depth.
The play repeatedly raises valid and interesting arguments concerning the various definitions of justice that exist in today's society, and each of the characters brings his or her own idea thereof to the stage, often in an effectively humourous manner.
Unfortunately, Problem Child is laced with hopelessness down to its core, and this bitter-yet-realistic portrait is what will stay with you long after the house lights have come up.
Ausable Theatre presents
by George F. Walker
Where: McManus Studio, downstairs at the Grand Theatre
When: Wednesday, Feb. 5 Saturday, Feb. 8, 2003
All shows at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $15, available through the Grand Theatre box office at 672-8800
*pay-what-you-can evening: Wednesday, Feb. 5
*$5 admission for students: Thursday, Feb. 6
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