We came to this stage production late in its run, as life just seems to keep happening, but we were lucky enough to get into the Theatre Passe Muraille last night to have a look at this dynamic, fun, and driven production of two of playwright George F. Walker’s pieces, Parents Night and The Bigger Issue.
Featuring a talented cast who are more than up to the challenge of bringing their characters to life, and just as important keeping them grounded in the reality of the world they are presenting, the plays are set within the world of education, the often butting heads of teachers, administration and parents, all of whom, in their way are trying to give the children under their care the best life they can. Unfortunately, not all of these things work in concert.
And like the best forms of drama, comedy, and stagecraft, the dialogue entertains, often allowing the audience to erupt into laughter while dragging issues that aren’t always discussed out into a public forum examining them and commenting on them; allowing the audience to see things in a new way and just as important as the plays themselves, generate important conversations long after the theatre lights have come up.
In Parents Night, the talented Sarah Murphy-Dyson’s Nicole, a teacher just dealt a stunning blow, is conferring with two parents, John (Matthew Olver, who definitely knows how to play a beat – his swiping of some pens and tasting a latte were priceless) and Rosie (the versatile Dana Puddicombe) about their respective children, the possible issues each has, and how their environments, their relationships and their learning abilities, both at home and school, will shape who they grow up to be. Often funny, and at times painfully poignant, the trio walk the fine line of reality and lampoon, as different social strata and circumstances within one school district serves as a cross-section for Canada, its education system, and the family dynamics. It also puts a very human face on the concept of the educator, often the brunt of accusation and blame by parents.
The Bigger Issue puts a young teacher, Suzy (an adorable and able Julia Heximer) between her principal, Irene (Murphy-Dyson) and a pair of angry parents, Maggie (Puddicombe) and Jack (Olver), who have a secret of their own, when Suzy intervenes in an incident with a child who is ‘on the spectrum.’ Dealing with perceptions on both sides of the argument, as well as the need for information in the proper treatment of students, this one may have seemed a bit more extreme in terms of absurdity, but the characters are so grounded in their world that the audience follows them, and can sympathize with all sides, as the truth about the system, the students, and the family come to light.
The four actors run the emotional gambit through the two plays, and the audience is delighted to follow them, getting a look into a world some may recognize, but may not know as well as they think they do. The production design by Nancy Anne Perrin is wonderfully minimalist, setting up enough to create the image of a classroom, and letting our characters inhabit it under the direction of Wes Berger.
You still have time to take this one in it runs until the 17th, and I guarantee you’ll laugh, and will want to have some serious discussions about the education system and parenting when you are done. You can get your tickets here.
Go see it, and then let me know what you thought of it!