Mar 1, 2010

What Goes Around


'WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?'

These simple, powerful words could be a Holzer truism, a piece of graffiti, a philosophical query, or all three.

It's a sign worn by actor Peter Donaldson, playing a woebegone father in Canadian playwright George F. Walker's latest work, And So It Goes. The work revolves around Ned and Gwen, a couple who must deal with their mentally ill daughter's demise and eventual death; their downfall is where they come to know themselves and one another in new, sometimes disturbing ways. It's a powerful, moving piece of work with solid performances by its cast of four, who are directed with great sensitivity by Walker himself.

The title of the work is a reference to Kurt Vonnegut, who figures into the happenings by way of being the imaginary mentor to first Gwen (played by Martha Burns) and later Ned, as the play progresses. Vonnegut's saying from Slaughterhouse Five -"so it goes" -is, according to The A.V. Club, notable for "how much emotion—and dismissal of emotion—it packs into three simple, world-weary words that simultaneously accept and dismiss everything." The character of Vonnegut (played by Jerry Franken) is especially poignant considering the writer's own son was schizophrenic; the "sh*t happens"-esque stance takes on a whole new meaning when placed within the context of the dark world Walker creates.

The playwright is known for his gritty depictions of down-and-out people in desperate circumstances (the Suburban Motel series is a good example), but I've always found much of his work to have an equal acidly dark humour. None of that humour figures into And So It Goes, however. The work is as much about survivors as it is victims; incidents are presented as simple facts of life, with minimal fanfare, for maximum emotional effect. Director Walker has wisely chosen to use music (by John Roby) strategically, allowing actors time within the wide, long parameters of the Factory Theatre's stage to reveal a deeper emotional reality. Daughter Karen (Jenny Young), sitting saucer-eyed, frightened, and dirty, looks especially alone in such an environment; the effects of her illness on her -and her family - is made especially visceral. The need for connection couldn't be made more plain.

The role of connection figures prominently when the Karen returns in the second act, along with Vonnegut, offering insights, observations, and... silence. She simply hears Ned and Gwen out, and that's important. If The A.V. club is right, that Vonnegut's "so it goes" saying "neatly encompasses a whole way of life", it's also accurate to note how that encompassing involves acceptance, because that's the work's overarching theme. By the play's end, the once-affluent pair have accepted their daughter's passing, their role in her demise (in that they could not prevent it), and their current circumstances. Who is responsible? Everyone and no one, all at once and nevermore. So it goes.

And So It Goes has been held over by popular demand at the Factory Theatre to March 6th.

Photography by Ed Gass-Donnelly.

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