Eighteen-year-old Connor (Colin Mercer) has returned home from his first semester of university only to announce that he has no desire to go back, much to the chagrin of Sharon (Susan Coyne), his mother. Janie (Michelle Monteith) is not finding motherhood easy and longs to return to work, much to the chagrin of her husband, Constable Dan (Ian Lake). In the Toronto premiere of Joan MacLeod’s The Valley, directed by Richard Rose, the lives of these two families intertwine when Connor finds himself under arrest by Constable Dan on the Vancouver Sky Train. The Valley explores depression, both at younger and older ages, as well as issues of violence in the police force.
Rose has all four characters seated in the audience area of Tarragon’s Mainspace, which has been organized into a traverse formation, for the entirety of the piece. Both families’ houses occupy the same bedroom, kitchen, and living room spaces in Graeme S. Thomson’s set – sometimes simultaneously – which results in seamless transitions that move the piece along at a brisk pace. A circle on the floor in the center of the stage acts as a neutral space where characters go to deliver monologues and also acts as the prison cell where Mercer remains, in character, for the duration of intermission. While Mercer’s performance throughout intermission is moving and the choice to keep him there makes his suffering in prison much more understandable, the transition into this portion of the show is unclear. Although the other three characters exit and the house lights are turned on, the audience is reluctant to move, presumably unsure as to whether it is time for intermission or whether the performance is still in progress.
Throughout the course of The Valley, each of the four characters are given an opportunity to tell their side of the story, and all four actors deliver compelling performances, even when they are seated on the outskirts of the stage. Due to the fact that the piece runs for an hour and forty-five minutes, not including the fifteen minute intermission, I left The Valley feeling as though I had only scratched the surface of the intricate stories that each of the characters had to tell. MacLeod has developed four unique, captivating characters, and Rose has assembled a skilled team and made very strong directorial choices. So many issues and plot points are thrown into the mix, however, that it simply did not feel like enough time was spent on them for one to be able to understand the full weight of the situation. Regardless, it is a gripping piece, and one that I would certainly recommend.
The Valley is playing at the Tarragon Theatre until December 15. Tickets $27-48. For more information, visit www.tarragontheatre.com.