Workshop West’s spring production is Conni Massing’s The Invention of Romance, a three-handed story inspired by the playwright’s mother’s late-in-life romance with someone she’d acted in a play with in their youth.
Lora Brovold plays Kathleen (Kate), a jittery anxious museum curator in her “mid 30s”, who starts the story having boyfriend trouble and being fussed about a museum exhibit that she is curating, an exhibit about romance framed around an historical manuscript. Valerie Ann Pearson plays her mother Louisa, over 70 and I think widowed (or did I just assume that?) with contrasting stillness. Even when her world gets turned upside down with the possibility of new romance, she isn’t as rattled as her daughter is on a daily basis.
Kate occasionally addresses the audience, or sets up a podium and microphone to speak at a professional meeting. We see more of her interior life and her professional life than we do of Louisa’s, but the playwright, director (Tracy Carroll), and actors have done a great job of showing that there is more to Louisa’s side of the story that we’re not seeing because Kate isn’t seeing it. One of my favourite bits was when Louisa was working around to telling her daughter that things have escalated with Cliff, by mentioning the toaster he’d bought her at a auction sale so that she could make two pieces of toast at once, in case she has a guest at breakfast. Kate of course takes far too long to catch on to what Louisa’s really saying, but the audience completely gets it, especially after Pearson starts rolling her eyes, having lost her initial awkwardness in the conversation in favour of irritation with her self-centred daughter.
The third actor in the play is Mat Busby, credited as Man. I kept trying to figure out what I’d seen him in before, since he obviously has so many local acting credits that he can’t include all of them in his program bio. Maybe he was in Die-Nasty last year? His main role was as James, an awkward cardigan-wearing work collaborator of Kate, but he also played Louisa’s acting colleague in flashback, as well as the various men Kate encounters in her experiments with on-line dating. We don’t really get to see Cliff, Louisa’s present-day suitor, although we do get a little bit of the humour of an awkward conversation between Kate and her mother’s date in a “talking to invisible man” vignette.
The play evoked thought as well as emotion. As someone older than Kate and not as old as Louisa, I liked the idea of not being thought past it. And I liked seeing how Louisa’s anxieties and uncertainties were easier to deal with than Kate’s. Both of them were appealing characters, but the disagreements and misunderstandings between them were both universally familiar and specific to the characters. I enjoyed the multiple references to Louisa having consulted with Kate’s older brothers before telling Kate something, and Kate the youngest getting annoyed about that. I also enjoyed Kate’s line “Is it possible I’m not nearly as mysterious as I thought?” when her mother sees through her.
The simple set was fascinating to look at. It appeared to be made up completely of IKEA EXPEDIT storage shelves and Staples-brand storage boxes. The actors would pull props out of boxes or make them into furniture as needed. And the set made me think about order and tidiness in life and the complications unseen.
The Invention of Romance continues at L’UniThéâtre until Sunday afternoon April 13th (next weekend). It’s worth seeing. On-line tickets are here.