The Full Light of Day: through a glass darkly

 

Gabrielle Rose in The Full Light of Day. Photo by Don Lee

Little Gabrielle Rose and big Gabrielle Rose. (Photo by Don Lee)

The Full Light of Day is obsessed with its surfaces and, as a result, many of them are well crafted. The performances in this production are first rate. And the script is a mess—especially in Act 1, which is 90 minutes long. By intermission, I had very little idea who the story was about, what it was about (other than the obvious), or why I should care.

Playwright Daniel Brooks introduces us to a family that’s richer than Croesus, as the saying goes, and I suspect their wealth is supposed to lend their tragedy Greek proportions.

Harold, the patriarch, has been involved in the development of some major real estate and it is darkly hinted that he may have broken a few bones or even murdered on his way to the top. But somebody is after Harold and everything is falling apart.

Harold’s wife Mary is clueless about the sordid reality of her husband’s activities. So she doesn’t really know what their son David, who has inherited the family empire, is up to either—although she does know that he is a belligerent, violent pig. Mary is suffering through a tense period in her relationship with her daughter Jane, who is chronically entangled in the grief brought on by her husband’s suicide.

Of her children, Mary is most fond of Joey, a wannabe artist (maybe). When we meet Joey, he is trying to make a Happy Birthday video for his mom on his phone.

But what’s the story? Harold’s real estate dealings are vague. Although he’s named, we never really know who Harold’s nemesis is; a couple of cryptic characters just show up  now and then to taunt Harold and stare at him ominously. It takes forever to figure out why the bad guy—or, in Harold’s case, the worse guy—is after him.

Mary is, arguably, the protagonist, but attempts to invest in her perspective are equally frustrating. She’s a ditz. Mary’s complete lack of knowledge about the true source of the family’s wealth strains credibility. And she has an annoying habit of indulging in self-conscious word play and philosophizing.

Because of their vulnerability, the two most appealing characters are Jane and Joey, but they show up briefly at the beginning of Act 1 and then disappear for most of its duration.

Act 2 settles down as it focuses on the death of one of the characters. Because there is a coherent through line at last, this act works much better. Something concrete is finally at stake onstage, and relationships are developed through more sustained scenes, although those scenes do occasionally veer into melodrama.

By the way, I am not laying one grain of my criticism at the feet of the actors. Gabrielle Rose is luminous as Mary. Playwright Brooks and director Kim Collier conceived The Full Light of Day as a film/theatre hybrid, so we see Mary lying on a bed onstage, for instance and, on the vast walls of the set behind her, we simultaneously see a live close-up of her face—tears rolling down her cheeks. And Rose makes Mary’s foolishness more charming than could be reasonably expected.

Jonathon Young is stellar as the lost soul Joey and a couple of other characters. He’s also hilarious. In one of the best written scenes in the play, Joey tries his hand at the family’s specialty, violence, and he completely fucks it up while noting that he is experiencing “reality at its most thrilling, the authentic now.” Young’s skinless commitment to this absurdity helps to make it work and it also fuels his characterization of a charismatic preacher whose sermon inspires Mary to live more truthfully.

Speaking of charisma, Dean Paul Gibson oozes a pitch-black version of it as David. Jenny Young goes straight to the heart of the conflicted Jane. Jim Mezon strips himself bare as Harold. And Jillian Fargey is coolly compromised as David’s wife Sherry.

Physically, the production is a huge undertaking that finds mixed success. Julie Fox makes a set out of enormous components, including a couple of gigantic cut-out rooms that feature high, chic walls finished in plywood and concrete. In an elegant gesture, we sometimes see these rooms from different angles—an effect simply achieved through the rearrangement of furniture. A large rectangular frame that descends occasionally—a picture window in Harold and Mary’s house—is less successful.  From where I was sitting at least, that frame sometimes obscured the action.

Some of the physicality feels gimmicky. A real car appears repeatedly, for instance. I might have been happier with this if the balance between flashy production elements and effective storytelling had been more successful. As things stand, though, such grand theatrical gestures tend to emphasize the weakness of the narrative.

Still, director Collier’s vision is undeniably ambitious—and intermittently beautiful. I grew tired of the endless, clichéd shots of imposing modern buildings in Brian Johnson’s* video design and I found the relationship between the video imagery and the live performers overly busy in Act 1. But, in Act 2, that relationship settles down and becomes much more effective. There are long passages, for instance, in which Mary’s face fills virtually the entire proscenium while the drama unfolds downstage centre: rendered with simplicity, this combination of intimate and epic scales works extremely well.

Still, I didn’t accumulate one whiff of insight or unfamiliar thought as I passed through The Full Light of Day. The play is clearly a critique of capitalism and the obliviousness of the privileged—especially as those things relate to real estate. But that’s all familiar and easily accessible. What else is there? That we should stay away from gangsters? I knew that already, too.

THE FULL LIGHT OF DAY By Daniel Brooks. Directed by Kim Collier. An Electric Theatre Company production in association with Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and BMO. At Pacific Theatre on Friday, December 14.  Continues until January 12. Tickets.

* When I first published this review, I incorrectly credited Kevin Kerr with the video design.

 

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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

Comments

  1. Don Wright says:

    And Harold’s final line, “you were right all along” was baffling; I felt let down after so much effort to make sense of the story and all the moving parts.

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