There is a sophistication to the music in The Way Back to Thursday that makes this story of inter-generational relationships and coming out very satisfying.
Developing a close relationship with his grandmother as a boy, Cameron finds himself drifting apart from the woman he once spent every Thursday watching Rock Hudson movies. As Cameron grows older and grapples with his sexuality, he finds himself on the other side of the country, afraid of how his grandmother might react to the fact he is gay. Eventually looking to rekindle the relationship, he discovers that it might be too late.
Told exclusively through a series of songs, hence its designation as a song cycle instead of a musical, there is an undercurrent in playwright Rob Kempson’s story that is as sophisticated as his music. Going beyond the guilt Cameron feels for having abandoned his grandmother, there are deeper questions as to the consequences of his actions, both real and imagined. As Cameron comes to terms with his sexuality, it is underscored by the heartbreaking idea that, had he been honest with his grandmother, perhaps the outcome for both of them might have been much different. Without giving too much away, it is a fresh addition to the usual coming out story that speaks to the internal turmoil and uncertainty that many gay men and women face. How does coming out affect those around us? How much responsibility must we take for the reactions of others? Can our refusal to acknowledge who we are impact those around us in ways we can’t being to imagine?
In this quick 60 minute show though, those questions never quite has an opportunity to be fully answered. Since The Way Back to Thursday is told with no connective material it relies exclusively on specific moments in the two character’s lives, both separately and together. Without a true narrative the show is as much a memory play as a song cycle that sometimes lacks the necessary clarity to bring it all together. The result is not that Kempson’s story is necessarily confused, but it would go a long way to help justify some of his choices and would have helped in solidifying the more powerful explorations that seem to lie just below the surface of the songs.
Kempson, who plays Cameron, and Valerie Hawkins who plays the grandmother do a nice job with the material. Kempson portrays Cameron’s life from eight years to a young man with ease, and Hawkins is so brimming with joy at becoming a grandmother at the top of the show, it will absolutely fill your heart, and makes her story that more devastating.
Kempson and Hawkins are accompanied on-stage by top-notch musicians Chris Tsujiuchi and Samuel Bisson on piano and cello respectively.
It comes as no surprise that the organizers of In Tune, the biennial event celebrating Canada’s musical theatre development, decided to showcase The Way Back to Thursday in their first-ever offering of a finished work.This sweetly sad story of coming out, inter-generational relationships, and aging proves there is plenty of musical theatre talent in this country, far from Broadway.
If you go, be sure to take your grandmother.
The Way Back to Thursday, with book, music, and lyrics by Rob Kempson. Directed by Briana Brown. An In Tune 2015 presentation of a Theatre Passe Muraille production. On stage at the Revue Stage on Granville Island until June 21. Visit https://touchstonetheatre.com for tickets and information.