Placeholder canvas
Monday, July 22, 2024

Theatre review: Leaving Home is worth leaving home for

Matchstick Theatre's production of David French's drama delivers a poignant and emotionally resonant experience, largely thanks to the outstanding performances of Shelley Thompson and Hugh Thompson in the lead roles.

Matchstick Theatre’s production of David French’s Leaving Home delivers a poignant and emotionally resonant experience, largely thanks to the outstanding performances of Shelley Thompson and Hugh Thompson in the lead roles.

Set in late 1950s Toronto, French’s autobiographical play, told in real-time, follows the story of the transplanted Newfoundland Mercer family on the eve of their youngest son Billy’s shotgun wedding. Against the pending nuptials, including a visit filled with revelations from Billy’s bride-to-be, her mother and newest suitor, the play focuses on the strained relationship between the father, Jacob, and his eldest son, Ben. Feeling suffocated by his father’s expectations and the weight of tradition, Ben decides to leave home. While Jacob wrestles with the changing family dynamic, it is up to his long-enduring wife, Mary, to try to hold their world together.

Shelley Thompson’s portrayal of Mary Mercer, the matriarch of the Mercer family, is nothing short of mesmerizing. Her ability to embody the strength, vulnerability, and complex emotions of a mother struggling to hold her family together amidst turmoil is remarkable. Thompson brings a depth of nuance to her character, capturing Mary’s inner conflicts and fierce determination with equal grace.

Opposite Shelley Thompson, Hugh Thompson (no relation) delivers a compelling performance as Jacob Mercer, Mary’s husband and the patriarch of the Mercer family. Thompson skillfully portrays Jacob’s internal struggles and external conflicts as he grapples with his demons while trying to maintain his role as the head of the household. His interactions with Thompson’s Mary are potent, effortlessly running through a range of emotions from love and tenderness to frustration and anger.

The chemistry between the two Thompsons is palpable, adding depth and authenticity to their characters’ tumultuous relationship. Their scenes together are electrifying, capturing the complexities of a long-term marriage filled with love, regrets, and unspoken truths.

As the bride’s mother, Minnie, Sharleen Kalayil is a powerhouse. Although the Mercer family takes much of the focus, the relationship between mother and daughter (Abby Weisbrot) has its own baggage, not the least of which is a disappointingly undeveloped revelation about Minnie’s new suitor, Harold, played by a silent Sébastien Labelle.

Rounding out the cast are the two brothers, Lou Campbell as Ben and Sam Vigneault as Billy. Often overshadowed by their larger-than-life parents, there is a sense of defeat, tinged with anticipation, as they attempt to maneuver through the family’s changing dynamic. More stories await as they leave the family home and start their lives, some of which, and more, French deals with in the four other plays in what has become known as the “Mercer Plays.”

Sam Vigneault as Billy Mercer and Abby Weisbrot as his bride-to-be in the Matchstick Theatre production of Leaving Home. Photo by Stoo Metz.
Sam Vigneault as Billy Mercer and Abby Weisbrot as his bride-to-be in the Matchstick Theatre production of Leaving Home. Photo by Stoo Metz.

Presented in the round, director Jake Planinc places the audience just outside the family living room and the heartbeat of many family homes: the kitchen. In his recent interview, Planinc said that Wesley Babcock’s realistic cut-out set “allows audiences to feel like they’re peering into the lives of the characters, experiencing every nuance and emotion up close.” While valid for the most part, it sometimes complicates sightlines depending on where you are seated. In my seat, for example, the final moments in which Mary reveals why she has stayed with Jacob all these years were lost as her back was to us.

Alison Crosby lights the entire proceedings with a warm wash, and Kaelen MacDonald’s costumes are period-perfect.

Delving into the complexities of familial bonds and the challenges of pursuing one’s path while remaining connected to one’s roots, Leaving Home may have been set 65 years ago, but its broad themes still resonate today. A solid production of a Canadian classic, the two Thompson performances alone are worth leaving home for Leaving Home.

Leaving Home by David French. Directed by Jake Planinc. A Matchstick Theatre production on stage at Breaking Circus (2164 Barrington St, Halifax) until March 31. Visit matchsticktheatre.ca for tickets and information.

Join the Discussion

Follow Us on Social Media

2,593FansLike
1,160FollowersFollow
681FollowersFollow
- Advertisement -

Latest Articles

- Advertisement -