At Kay Meek Centre Studio Theatre until February 14, 2015
Posted February 2, 2015
Sometimes it takes a cataclysmic event to jar us out of our comfort zone. And, if you’re over, say, sixty and married to the same partner for forty years, give or take a few, that comfort zone can be downright predictable. How many times has pyjama-ed Lilly nagged husband Morgan before she joins him in bed about his toothpaste spit on the bathroom mirror or his “dribbles” on the floor by the toilet? She’s obsessed with death and dying on this particular night because a friend has suddenly died at fifty-six and Morgan, not quite retired, has recently suffered a heart attack.
And then whump! A body lands on their recently purchased condo balcony and drags itself right into their bedroom. A young, scruffy, foul-smelling young man – Parker – has attempted to fly from the rooftop and, like Icarus, failed miserably. Unlike Icarus, however, Parker has only sustained a small head wound.
Sure, they should call the police or, at the very least, the building manager but there is something about this young man that stops them from doing that. And Morgan and Lilly are decent people. A childless, retired teacher, Lilly is initially appalled that Parker is “bleeding on the Persian” but she’s the first to soften up. And when Parker talks to her about her legs spread and her hands “fluttering between her thighs”, he’s got her blushing. But he really has her on the ropes when he quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson: “I am a lover of uncontained and immortal beauty”. The line is beautiful and very funny at the same time because Parker has been on the roof to free the container-grown trees that are “crying” to him.
Nicola Cavendish, at sixty-two and not often enough seen on stage, can still blush and twinkle. And twinkle she does. Shock, curiosity and admiration are written all over Lilly as Parker, naked as a jaybird, hops around the bedroom. But Lilly also has a backbone that Cavendish makes absolutely apparent in the no-nonsense way Lilly scolds the intruder. “Don’t swear. I told my students it was a failure of language.” Cavendish makes completely plausible the transformation that Lilly makes over the course of the evening. Her world has been shaken like those rooftop trees in a windstorm and her husband will either change along with her or he won’t.
Roy Surette, artistic director of Montreal’s Centaur Theatre directs and he brings back Christopher Hunt, a veteran of the Vancouver Playhouse and now a resident of Calgary, for this Centaur Theatre/Kay Meek Centre co-production. Hunt makes a likeable, pragmatic foil for Lilly’s swings from hostility and suspicion to something akin to sensual and spiritual attraction.
Graham Cuthbertson makes his westcoast debut in The Goodnight Bird and it’s a tricky role: Parker can’t be too scary or it’s game over – Lilly or Morgan will call the police. But he can’t be too appealing or the play goes all soft and gooey. It’s a fine line and Cuthbertson finds it: his character is unbalanced but not dangerous.
Written by Canadian playwright Colleen Murphy, The Goodnight Bird premiered in 2011 at London, England’s Finborough Theatre where Murphy was playwright-in-residence at the time. This Centaur Theatre/Kay Meek Theatre production is the play’s North American premiere and represents an exciting first collaboration between the two companies.
The Goodnight Bird doesn’t pretend to be profound but it’s darkly funny and very entertaining. It’s wonderful to see Cavendish on stage again – an increasingly rare occasion – and it’s always rewarding. For those who have never been to the Kay Meek Theatre in West Vancouver, it’s a beautiful, state-of-the-art venue. The Studio is downstairs (there’s an elevator for those needing it). Seating a maximum of two hundred, the Studio is an intimate space, perfectly suited to plays like The Goodnight Bird.