Posted on: Thursday, April 18th, 2013
Wednesday night I had the opportunity to check out GraveYard Shift Theatre’s production of Frank McGuinnness’ play Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me. The production was directed by Wendi Smallwood and features performances by Ryan Patrick Walsh, George Robertson and Ross Moore.
I was very excited to see this show as I’m a huge a fan of McGuiness’ work, having read much of it and had the opportunity to perform in a play or two written by this Irish writer. McGuinness ‘ name belongs in the same breath as Stoppard, Churchill, LaBute and others. His work is thoughtful, intelligent and incredibly well penned.
The play surrounds the capture of an American (Moore), an Irishman (Walsh) and an Englishman (Robertson) in Lebanon. Lebanon first broke into the consciousness of the world in 1958 during what’s known as the 1958 Lebanon Crisis. The threat of civil war between Maronite Christians and Muslims prompted countries like the United States to place 17,000 troops on the ground in the region to try and still tensions. British troops were also among those with feet on the ground inside Lebanon to oversee the withdrawal of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).
These events in 1958 shaped the attitudes people in Lebanon had towards foreign involvement in political matters in the region. These troops were not welcome, for the most part. In fact, Russia threatened the use of nuclear weapons if there was even a hint of American involvement. The region has long been a flashpoint of political and military unrest. Another civil war erupted in 1975, and tensions escalated further in the mid eighties when Israel invaded to seek the removal of the PLO.
The PLO are the captors in this play. We never see them. They are hidden. Nameless. Faceless. But ever present.
Let’s Get Technical
The play opens with lights up in a room lined with bombed out cinder blocks and mortar. This may be the most elaborate set I’ve seen in the basement theatre, however, that’s not a hard thing to do for those who have any experience in that space. The set, designed by Liam Small, works well. In my mind, I would have liked to see things a little more cramped and confined, however, that’s just being nit picky.
Two little niggly bits stuck out to me regarding the set and the props. The beds and sheets were perfectly dirtied. They looked disgusting in fact. However, the chains were shiny and glimmered in the light. Because it is such a sparsely staged show, it really stood out to me. Also, plastic water bottles? Canteens may have been more appropriate.
The sound, designed by Ed Tanasychuk, was great. The sliding of metal doors, dripping of water, mumblings of captors – it all worked very well and really set the appropriate tone for the show. I will say that the dance recital going on upstairs threw me off from time to time. But, that’s not Ed’s fault, that’s the fault of the centre. Sound proofing, people: it’s the way of the future.
The lighting design, by Lawrence Glover, worked very well. There were some lovely tableau’s established through the use of the light. The light is used to show mood, emotion and in one particular instance – the passage of time.
George Robertson’s portrayal of Michael Watters is intelligent, informed and at times effortless. There are points in the more emotionally driven moments of the story where Robertson seems less sure of himself, however they are brief and few and far between. His dry wit and often times soft delivery are a stark contrast to his Irish counterpart. There is a lovely scene whereby Robertson and Walsh are flying in an imaginary car over their homeland in the cell, Robertson acting almost as a tour guide or flight attendant. It was quite lovely.
Ryan Patrick Walsh as Edward Sherridan provides the comedic relief in this darkened cell. The humour is at times jarring and makes the audience wonder if it’s genuine or if he’s teetering into madness. Walsh shows moments of tremendous range. However, at times he appears to “o’erstep the modesty of nature” in his delivery and it ventures into the arena of the overdone. An Irish accent is tough to pull off; at points during this production, Walsh does quite well. The accent fades in and out periodically, but in a play this long, it’s tough sledding to maintain its consistency. All in all, Walsh fulfilled his role admirably as the comedic foil in the concrete cell.
Ross Moore delivered, in my mind, his best performance to date. Informed, grounded and beautifully thought out, Moore’s portrayal of Adam Canning is quite lovely. We never, for a minute, thought he was somewhere other than at the hands of captors in Lebanon. I’ve seen Moore perform several times and the growth and maturity he showed during this production is a testament to the work he’s put in over the years. There is a scene where he is lying in the fetal position consoling himself that is just heartbreaking. Kudos.
So, what’s the problem Dave? God, you’re picky.
There are a lot of good things happening here. However, at times I really felt that the actors were not gelling. Particularly when there were three on stage at the same time. When there were two, it seemed to be fine. But once another character is introduced it seemed like they weren’t all in the same play. At times it appeared actors weren’t listening to one another. A character would speak, and the intended person on the other end would be staring off into space. I’m not sure why. Or what that served – but in a play this long, that’s focus is on the communication between three men in a cell, it pays to listen.
Bottom line. Nothing is perfect. There are some great elements to this production. There are some not-so-great elements. But all in all the cast and crew found a way to tell a story worth telling. The show came in at two hours and fifteen minutes without an interval on opening night. The show is at the Barbara Barrett Theatre at the Arts and Culture Centre. Showtime is at 8pm and runs until Sunday April 21st. Tickets are $25 and are available at the door or on the Arts and Culture Centre’s website.