An evening exploring the past: From Cradle to Stage 2016

Walterdale Theatre’s From Cradle to Stage is an annual showcase of new plays whose playwrights have the opportunity to work with a dramaturg and see a fully staged production of their work within nine months.

This year’s From Cradle to Stage showcase focuses on the past – either preserving it or changing it. The plays are Alison Neuman’s The Sunset Syndrome and Sherilyn Brady Cook’s Bottled Up. This year’s showcase is certainly not a light evening of theatre, but having seen From Cradle to Stage, I’m glad the folks at Walterdale didn’t shy away from presenting these two emotionally heavy shows together this year.

Bottled Up by Sherilyn Brady Cook

In Bottled Up, we meet Kimberly as she tries to take care of her dying mother, Brenda, despite their strained relationship. It quickly becomes apparent that Kimberly wants to know more about her family history (specifically why her Grandmother abandoned her family when Brenda was a baby) before her Mom passes away, but there are events in the past Brenda doesn’t want to discuss with her daughter. Trying another route and talking to her Grandfather, Kimberly is rebuffed again. However, she receives a mysterious message from her Grandmother that takes Kimberly back to the day her Grandmother disappears and offers her the choice to change the future by altering the past.

Playwright Sherilyn Brady Cook’s cast of characters is fully developed in this play – each with their own baggage of dashed ambitions. With each progression of the plot, the stakes are raised higher and higher, culminating in Kimberly’s decision that is somehow both difficult and easy. You’ll have to see it to understand what I mean, but make no mistake Bottled Up will keep you engaged.

Director Alex Hawkins has put together a team of actors that do justice to the intricacies of Bottled Up. In particular, I loved the contrast between Savannah Ribeiro’s modern, empowered Kimberly and Kajsa Engel-Wood’s portrayal of the grandmother, Dorothy, with her measured movements and stiff posture. Equally, Rhonda Kozuska’s portrayal of mother Brenda’s chronic pain (both physical and emotional) was very convincing. Finally, I loved the changes in Glen Warren’s performance as he played old and young Clive, making it easy to understand the tragedy of the younger character and his anger that is barely (and sometimes not at all) kept below the surface and the way he tries to rectify his behaviour later in life.

The Sunset Syndrome by Alison Neuman

Alison Neuman’s The Sunset Syndrome is of course about dementia and its effects (the title coming from the worsening of a person with dementia’s symptoms around sunset), but through a lens I’m sure we all especially hope we don’t experience it: after seeing someone you love lost to it. Emily (played by Peg Young) has already cared for her late husband and absolute love of her life Samuel (Andy Northrup) as his dementia worsened to the point of being placed in a long-term care facility up until his death. No sooner has she buried her husband, when she starts recognising signs of the disease in herself. With her four children (played by Roseanna Sargent, Grace Chapman, Shelby Colling, and Patrick Maloney) offering advice and support (wanted or not) Emily navigates the emotionally charged waters of how to deal with a future you know from personal experience to be inevitable.

The Sunset Syndrome is a candid look at the terrible effects of dementia and asks some of the same questions posed so excellently in Beth Graham’s The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble. However, what I found really resonated with me was the commentary on the health care system and particularly the care provided to the elderly. I’ve recently had the experience of someone I care about needing to use our health care system and while it is leaps and bounds above what most people have access to, the comments about the high patient to healthcare provider ratio and the identified difficulties in being able to provide the level of attention that every patient would like rings true. One verbal motif repeated throughout was Emily’s feeling and fear of being “invisible”, which I felt spoke to a feeling of being seen as being just another person whose care (needles, pills, food, exercise) needs to be crossed off someone’s list as opposed to having her own individual manifestations of dementia understood and treated by healthcare providers.

This play, with its multiple ensemble characters, requires a flexible cast, and this one delivered. Special shout out to Patrick Maloney in the role of villainous, dollars and cents-focused son Franklin. It was also very powerful to watch Andy Northrup and Peg Young in their respective roles as their dementia changed them more and more away from the characters they started out as and towards people the characters themselves didn’t recognise.

From Cradle to Stage runs until May 21 at Walterdale Theatre. Bottled Up and The Sunset Syndrome will both be performed every night of the run. Tickets are $13.75 – $17.75 through Tix on the Square.

For more information on the plays as well as one-on-one interviews with the cast and crew of both productions, check out the Walterdale Theatre blog.

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