BWW Review: OTHER PEOPLE'S CHILDREN at Centaur Theatre - Care and Carelessness
Hannah Moscovitch's Other People's Children has been mounted by Imago theatre. Directed by Micheline Chevrier, it will run from October 25th to November 4th. In Other People's Children, we find that Ilana (Kathleen Stavert) isn't adjusting to motherhood the way she hoped she would. A talented, willful lawyer, her life has been turned upside-down by the first nine months of her daughter Ava's life, which have been marred by the long struggle of physical and psychological postpartum recovery, as well as mounting marital strain between her and her businessman husband, Ben (Brett Donahue). Desperate to reclaim ownership of her life and body, she makes the decision to hire a live-in nanny so she can go back to work. Sati (Asha Vijayasingham), a multilingual mother of four with an engineering degree, is transplanted into their home to care for Ava full-time. While Ava and Sati bond, cracks start to show in the makeup of Ben and Ilana's relationship, heightened and emphasized by Sati's presence.
Playwright Hannah Moscovitch is so well-reviewed that it's hard not to go into the play looking for things to complain about. She has been described as an "indie sensation" (Toronto Life Magazine), which is cool, as well as "the dark angel of Toronto theatre" (Toronto Star), which is a terrible thing to say about someone. Critics have described her as "irritatingly talented" (Eye Weekly), and I wonder if these words would be chosen, or if I would have gone into the play with as much of an attitude, if she was not a woman. I had my bad intentions handed right back to me. The text is very, very good.
While the entire cast and crew clearly have a deep reverence for the strength of the work, there is something about this specific style of playwriting that is often hard to pull off: in a piece where so much of the function of the text is in how it trails off, and the way people cut off each others' sentences, every missed moment of authentic connection stands out, and requires a willful suspension of disbelief. By the time I noticed this happening, my respect for the cast and crew made this suspension not only possible, but easy, something I did with joy. It's the sort of thing that I'm sure will be worked out as the actors grow into the chemistry that is obviously there between them as the run of the play goes on.
Kathleen Stavert portrays of a woman who is also, in a way, a victim of circumstance: people raised in privilege often have blind spots in their capacity for compassion, because we cannot know things we have never had the opportunity to learn. Brett Donahue portrays a man whose agreeableness is often a mask for his carelessness, whose pursuit of justice leads him to use the bodies of the people he's trying to defend as props in his arguments. Asha Vijayasingham's performance as Sati was the standout of the evening. Sati's character is the most easily misunderstood. Smart, accomplished, eager to please, and deeply lonely, Sati has to find ways to connect to her humanity in a situation where any wrong move can mean the termination of her contract (which, as was pointed out by Juris Doctor candidate Hannah Deegan in the talkback, often means the end of the two-year work placement that is a migrant worker's clear path to bring themselves, their careers, and their families into Canada). Vijayasingham brings out the playfulness of Sati, her joy, and even her foolishness, as she also makes choices that seem to needlessly complicate things. With credits ranging from Julius Ceasar (Stratford festival) to Workin' Moms (CBC), Vijayasingham clearly is, and has been, a talent to keep an eye on.
The set of Other People's Children is comprised of Ben and Ilana's enormous master bathroom, complete with floor to ceiling mirrors, and the sparse bedroom where Sati lives. The rest of the house is implied, by set and costume designer Diana Uribe, in the way these two rooms are set up: minimalist, austere, recently renovated. Curated, in that way where anything and everything that is out of place stands out like a sore thumb. It's the Barbie Dream Home of the privileged young professional, the kind of place you tour and fall in love with because of what it represents: a place where the chaos you're trying to outrun could never enter. Leslie Baker's movement direction is clearly careful and well thought out, with a slight stiffness that I'm sure will get ironed out as the play continues its run.
I was grateful for the opportunity to hear the talkback at the end of the play, something Imago does with every performance. Stavert especially was incredibly forthright in her description of how she prepared for her role, which involved talking to women about their experiences with postpartum depression. Donahue commented on the sad, commonplace carelessness with which Ben and Ilana treat each other. Every one of the characters have such understandable reasons for the things they do. The difference between Ilana and Ben's decisions and Sati's is that due to their wealth, their cultural standing, and the place they were born, Ben and Ilana are the ones who get chance after another chance when they make mistakes. At the end of the day, human beings are rational creatures more than we are logical ones: we can chalk up our actions to psychological issues, the nature of our profession, the exploitative nature of capitalism itself. So many things are out of our control. We all have such exceptionally good reasons for being so exceptionally cruel to each other.
I wonder if that is the case in other places, as much as it is here.
Other People's Children runs at the Centaur Theatre through November 4th. There are many ways to see the show, including buying tickets at full price, and Imago's Pay-What-You-Decide program, which allows a viewer to pay a minimum price of 5c and a maximum price of whatever you'd like, before or after the show. Pay-What-You-Decide tickets must be reserved in advance. You can learn more about the work that Hannah Deegan and the Association for the Rights of Household Workers are doing here.