Every mom deserves a playwright.
[pullquote]Director Marisa Smith treads Hudgins’ memory with finesse and comes up with a nice balance that includes some quick transitions between the playwright’s stronger memories, the murky waters of those memories he’d rather forget, and the stuff he simply makes up.[/pullquote]From taking the piss out of the art of making theatre (“You can’t tell actors they are perfect – it gives them hope”) to coming to terms with his mom dying from cancer (“I don’t know what she wants”), playwright David Hudgins’ very personal Small Parts attempts to cover a lot of ground in this new piece from Vancouver’s Solo Collective Theatre.
Returning home to help his mother direct her own original script, The Ovarian Dialogues, the “kind of a big deal” theatre artist Nathan Perkins finds himself caught between helping her realize her rather bizarre play and coming to terms with both his mom’s terminal cancer and his sister’s mental illness. If we didn’t know that much of what we are witnessing is based on Hudgins’ own life, its premise could easily be written off as soap opera material. But Hudgins’ deft hand ensures that while it can go big, it also walks a fine line that may even have audiences reminded of the brilliant 1979 Bob Fosse film All That Jazz that dealt with some similar themes.
Since it is a memory play, Hudgins’ characters are at times much larger than life, especially when it comes to the three actors in his mother’s play. It is fascinating to watch the different layers Hudgins finds in his memory of this trio. Christine Reinfort is particularly fun to watch as Hudgins’ memory goes really big and sustains, while Lauren Jackson easily moves between the equally ridiculous and the believable, and the interactions between these two women are at times hilarious. The fearless Andrew McNee does what he does best as the irascible but loveable Dan, playing the Hudgins/Perkins conscience.
Perhaps not surprising, the three family members are the most realistic of the bunch, which makes for a wonderful contrast to the trio of actors in mom’s play.
Jeff Gladstone as the young theatre-maker returning home brings an open-hearted performance, struggling with the inevitability of his mother’s death and his sister’s mental illness; when he is reminded that there is “no script for life” it lacks any irony. Meaghan Chenosky straddles Hudgins’ memory line with nice results, but it is Eileen Barrett, as mom Irene, who gives the best performance of the night as she moves between the various stages of death with believability and a surprising warmth. Her final scene, set inside Shakespeare’s The Tempest, is so full of life that it is simultaneously heartbreaking and beautiful.
Director Marisa Smith roots around Hudgins’ memory with finesse and comes up with a nice balance that includes some clever transitions between the playwright’s stronger memories, the murky waters of those memories he’d rather forget, and the stuff he simply makes up. There is an interesting voyeuristic feeling that comes into play as we watch those three layers unfold, much like reading a National Enquirer at the checkout stand and knowing that much of what we are reading isn’t real, but secretly hoping that it is.
Shizuka Kai’s stark white set is suitably clinical, fitting both the play-within-the-play and the story of a dying woman. Laura Fukumoto has a lot of fun with the costumes, especially inside The Ovarian Dialogues.
Small Parts is at times overly ambitious as it tries to cover so much ground, but it is also a play that will make you want to call your mom.
Better yet, go call her anyway.
Small Parts by David Hudgins. Directed by Marisa Smith. A Solo Collective Theatre production in partnership with Inspire Health BC. On stage at Performance Works until November 23. Visit https://solocollective.ca for tickets and information.