”This may not be a good idea”, He says, setting the tone for Linda Griffiths’ Heaven Above Heaven Below, which makes its world premiere at Theatre Passe Muraille this week. He, played by former Passe Muraille artistic director Layne Coleman, is referring to the spontaneous reunion with ex-girlfriend She, played by Linda Griffiths herself. The two run into each other at a mutual friend’s wedding, and the story picks up in a seedy hotel room later in the night.
Heaven Above Heaven Below is a sequel to Griffiths’ 1991 play The Darling Family, featuring the two same nameless characters. Twenty years after their brief relationship ended, when an unplanned pregnancy rocked their young lives, He and She meet accidentally for the first time since their breakup. Familiarity mixes with the unknown as Coleman and Griffiths shuffle around the tiny hotel room space commiserating, reminiscing and teetering closer and closer to repeating their twenty-year old mistake. They discuss his marriage and young son and her current six-year relationship, tiptoeing around the poor judgment call they are winding towards as the night progresses.
Passe Muraille’s cozy Backspace adds to the feeling of intimacy that slowly overwhelms the two characters over the course of the play. He and She begin a lighthearted conversation, discussing the wedding from where they came, Canadian politics, old friends and the like. The topics take a serious turn when they attempt to confront their past and what connections it might have with the present. The more substantial the topic, the closer the two seem to get.
Griffiths’ wordplay, both in writing and delivery, is opposed nicely by Coleman, who shifts between bombastic assertions and humble admissions in a shaky attempt to present himself as secure and thriving. Coleman handles the range of emotion in his character admirably, especially in his sheepish confessions that he makes to Griffiths, and it is in these soft moments between the characters where the play truly shines. Though He and She have the tendency to blow smoke in an effort to outdo the other, the points in which the characters honestly and genuinely connect over something important are the times when their relationship is most clear.
”This may not be a good idea”, He says. Perhaps not in context for them, but it’s a very good idea to see Heaven Above Heaven Below.
Heaven Above Heaven Below is playing at Theatre Passe Muraille’s Backspace from November 19th until December 7th, Tuesdays to Saturdays. Tickets are $27.50, $22.50 for seniors, and $20 for the under 30 crowd.