Rob Kempson’s The Way Back To Thursday, directed by Briana Brown at Theatre Passe Muraille, is a poignant, heart-wrenching journey through the relationship of a boy and his grandmother, from youth to adulthood. This play is inspired by several interviews Kempson had with young men about their relationships with their grandmothers. Kempson, whose own grandmother passed away when he was young, has crafted a realistic connection between Cameron (Rob Kempson) and Grandma (Astrid Van Wieren) that shifts fluidly between an inspiring tale of kinship and a volatile coming of age story. The Way Back To Thursday is written as a traditional song cycle, with both characters using song to independently illustrate their version of the story.
Cameron is looking back on his time spent with Grandma. Now an adult living in Vancouver, Cameron recalls his Thursday movie nights with Grandma, a precursor to his job as a filmmaker out west. He also recalls his struggles with his sexuality and the pressure of trying to be something that he’s not, along with aspects of his youth that end up distancing himself from Grandma and lead to him inevitably moving away from her to Vancouver. At the same time, Grandma is also recalling her version of movie nights spent with her grandson. The love she had for him, still has for him, and Cameron's absence in her life, create a second narrative that Kempson weaves together with Cameron's version of events.
Kempson uses the song cycle format to place limits on the physical connection between the actors onstage, crafting a dual soliloquy of sorts, as opposed to a straightforward interplay between Cameron and Grandma. The format works to bring both characters’ stories and emotions to light, but the lack of interaction between the characters onstage at times works against the emotional drive of the play. Kempson and Van Wieren excel at using the staging and props to bring their own version of events to life, and there is clever use of space to illustrate different points in time. However, the passion of the two actors and their connection to the audience is somewhat stunted by their inability to communicate directly with each other. What little interaction they do share seems somewhat out of place as a result.
The set design by Beth Kates smartly divides the space into sections that are used to represent different points in time for the characters. This is coupled with excellent costuming by Katie Horrill; with the disrobing of a shirt or the removal of glasses, the costumes enable the characters to shift effortlessly between time periods.
Overall, The Way Back To Thursday is a well-crafted look into a relationship worth exploring. While unusual, the song cycle format allows the characters to investigate, in a unique fashion, the relationship that has come to define them both.
The Way Back To Thursday runs until February 8th at Theatre Passe Muraille. Tickets are $32.50 or $27.50 for seniors and $15 for the under 30 crowd. Visit www.passemuraille.on.ca or call 416-504-7529 for tickets.
photo credit: Michael Cooper
Featured in photo: Rob Kempson, Astrid Van Wieren