Ensemble Theatre Company's Repertory Festival presents three serious dramas

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Dark Road, A Few Good Men, The Beauty Queen of Leenane | Ensemble Theatre Company Repertory Festival | Jericho Arts Centre | July 12 – August 17, 2018

Ensemble Theatre Company is back for their 6th Repertory Festival at Jericho Arts Centre with three serious pieces of theatre — a police procedural, a military trial, and a mother-daughter feud that are full of dramatic tension, plot twists, and (mostly) tidy endings.

Dark Road

It’s the 25th anniversary of Alfred Chalmers’s arrest, and Isobel (Rebecca Walters) can’t stop thinking about the nagging doubts she has about his case. As the Chief Constable of Scotland’s police, she has had a good career and is thinking about retirement. First, she has to put her doubts to rest and dig up the case, even though her cynical daughter tells her it’s only because he’s her “trophy serial killer.”

 As Isobel starts down this dark road of her past, reliving the memory of what Chalmers did to the four girls he killed and wondering if the evidence that put him away was sound, she questions herself and becomes consumed with figuring out the truth once and for all. Meanwhile, her daughter, Alexandra (Alysson Hall), is working on a documentary project for film school, and her star is Chalmers himself.

Creative staging including ghosts of the victims, a mysterious creep in a fox’s head, and Isobel imagining various scenarios of the truth all served to reinforce her psychological turmoil. Her colleagues, Frank Bowman (Anthony Santiago) and Fergus McLintock (David Wallace), try to stop her from going down the road of her past and reliving the events of 25 years earlier. Frank stood out as particularly assured as he teases Isobel and attempts to woo her just as he did back then.

As Frank says, fear of the future can often slip doubts in about the past. As Isobel listens to old interview tapes and thinks about writing a book about her career, she thinks about what her daughter said: “The truth lies behind the eyes of the facts.” If she can only see the truth behind the facts, she’ll know if they put the right man behind bars. While a bit predictable, Ian Rankin and Mark Thomson have written a thriller that shows how the past can often get in the way of the present and interfere with our future.

 


A Few Good Men

Military jargon, rapid fire dialogue, army chants, and a lengthy court martial trial. A Few Good Men has a few good things going for it, and a few that could be better. For starters, it’s too long, at times it feels bogged down in military terminology, and the staging was a bit bland. The cast makes up for some of this in their impassioned delivery — particularly Joanne Galloway (Alexis Kellum-Creer) and Daniel A. Kaffe (Sean Anthony).

Joanne, a lawyer from the US Navy’s Internal Affairs wants to represent two marines from Gauntanamo Bay who have been accused of killing one of their own, but the case is assigned to Daniel, a younger, less experienced lawyer. Predictably, the two begin by throwing witty insults back and forth until they end up working together in court and develop mutual respect. But first, Joanne tells Daniel that his “Fast food, slick-ass, Persian bazaar method” is not going to win the case.

Navigating the lies, cover-ups, and Navy code of “unit, corps, god, country,” eventually Joanne and Daniel uncover the truth and expose the practice of “code reds” where marines discipline anyone who steps out of line. This is a good story with plenty of suspense and it was well-acted, but Aaaron Sorkin’s script works better on film and is a bit unwieldy on stage.    


The Beauty Queen of Leenane

Isolated in an old farmhouse in the Irish countryside, Maureen (Kirsten Slenning) is constantly at odds with her mother, Mag (Tanja Dixon-Warren). Mag is lazy, demanding, and manipulative, while Maureen is full of spite and resentment. Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) creates protagonists so complicated and awful it can be difficult to feel sympathy for them, but complicated characters are what make a great play.

Although we never leave Maureen and Mag’s house, and much of the time is spent on them bickering, there is enough intrigue and humour to keep things going. They both give outstanding performances, especially Maureen who has a fleeting chance at love and a life of her own and whose sanity is brought into question.

Dixon-Warren is perfectly vile as she dumps her bucket of urine down the kitchen sink each morning and prevents Maureen from having any kind of social life. Maureen, in turn, has little respect for her mother and grudgingly makes her tea and porridge — but as soon as she hears any kind of complaint, it’s down the drain the tea goes.    

Neighbour Ray (Francis Winter) stops in to visit and deliver messages, always leaving annoyed and regretting his visit. His brother, Pato (Ashley O’Connell), is in love with Maureen and they share a night of intimacy at her place, with Mag in the next room. In the most charged scene, Maureen spitefully throws her happiness in her mother’s face, coming to breakfast in her slip and talking about how much she has a taste for Pato now. This entire cast is fantastic, McDonagh’s writing incudes a typically ironic twist, and by the end we’re left questioning these characters’ motivations and with a lot to ponder, in a good way.

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