Depression. Divorce. Loneliness. Longing. These are not words we typically associate with children. Yet these are prevalent hardships that many young people will endure, or watch their loved ones endure while growing up.
The world premiere of Emily's Piano (adapted for the stage by Mark Cassidy from the novel by Charlotte Gingras) forces us to think about how depression and family struggles affect children and youth, and how to promote awareness of this reality, beginning at a young age.
Emily's (Hilary Carroll) seemingly happy family is falling apart piece by piece. Her parents (Heather Marie Annis and Christopher Sawchyn) are splitting up, her dad has a new girlfriend, her mom cries an awful lot and all her two big-mouthed sisters (Ginette Mohr and Mary Ellen Maclean) manage to do is gossip about the family's problems when they think Emily isn't listening.
For Emily, this initially seems like an irreversible tragedy. She thinks back to the time when her family sat around the grand piano, playing, dancing and laughing. But the piano is sold, her father is gone and she wonders if she'll ever be able to put her family back together again.
The actors are collectively successful in constantly engaging their spectators with bold words and movement. Each performer manages to present these hard-hitting issues in such an animated way, making the content continuously accessible to the young audience members.
Set and lighting designer Beth Kates is nothing short of a creative genius. Her set is stunning, yet versatile and her lighting is rich and moody, setting the perfect tone from scene to scene.
Two sets of winding stairs set the scene for a wide variety of places within the play. Pieces of Emily's disassembled piano are scattered throughout the show, creating a beautiful metaphor, while also being utilized for practical purposes, such as for the purpose of creating door frames.
Emily's Piano is a heartwarming story because it's real, it's brave and it's progressive. It is a small but necessary step toward breaking the stigma surrounding traditionally taboo family issues. It says 'all families have problems, and that's okay,' and acknowledging this is an imperative part of young people's growth in our contemporary society.
Emily's Piano plays at Young People's Theatre (YPT) until May 2. For more information visit youngpeoplestheatre.ca.
photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann