'The Stillborn Lover' by Timothy Findley
Presented by Scarborough Theatre Guild now onstage at Scarborough Village Theatre
A master acting class for a community theatre production thanks to a gelled ensemble cast who remained intently focused throughout.
Bravo to Scarborough Theatre Guild for tackling one of Canada’s prolific writers of the twentieth century.
As we all slowly emerge from this pandemic, what an enjoyable and golden opportunity it was to be treated to a company of actors who were clearly and diligently prepared for Timothy Findley’s ‘The Stillborn Lover’. First produced in 1993, ‘Lover’ is not an easy play to stage by any means as there are so many subtleties within the script that requires an audience to pay close attention to the unfolding story.
Clarification about the title. For most of us, the word ‘stillborn’ means born dead. There is another definition for stillborn - failing from the start: ‘unsuccessful, abortive’ - to remember as you are watching the production.
Thankfully, Scarborough Theatre Guild got me out of a rut of binging ‘Netflix’ or On Demand. Not that there’s anything wrong with that if that’s what people want to do; however, when I go to the theatre, I look forward to being challenged and being able to think about what’s playing before me. And hopefully, I will leave the auditorium at the conclusion with new thoughts and ideas or having learned something about human nature.
As Prospero once said in ‘The Tempest’: “This is such stuff of which dreams are made.”
Jeremy Henson directs this terrific cast with much sensitivity and compassion and creates a wonderful dream of a story to be told. Pay close attention nevertheless as it is easy to get either lost or confused in all the dialogue.
The year is 1971. According to Theatre Scarborough’s website: 'The Stillborn Lover' follows the abrupt recall of highly regarded Canadian ambassador in Moscow Harry Raymond (Clive Lacey) from his post to a safehouse by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Michael Riordan (Ted Powers). At this safehouse, Harry is questioned by two members of the RCMP Daniel Jackman (Neil Kulin) and Greg Mahavolitch (Brad Finch) about a crime committed in a Moscow hotel room.
Accompanying Harry is his daughter Diana Marsden (Marisa King) who defends her father during this interrogation. We also meet Harry’s ill wife, Marian (Jill Tonus) and Riordan’s wife, Juliet (Vivian Hisey).
In another interwoven plot, we also learn Riordan is planning to run for the leadership of his political party upon learning the incumbent Prime Minister is stepping down on account of poor health. Both Michael and Juliet are wanting to avoid any scandal that could ruin the former’s run at becoming leader of the country. However, past secrets and indiscretions threaten the careers of both Harry and Michael.
Lester Ruiz’s gorgeous set design amply fills the playing space of the Village Theatre. I spent a good deal of time just sitting and taking in as much as I could in noticing the intricate workings of the safehouse. From my seat, I noticed the detailed painting on the stonework in front of the first set of steps. I counted five levels each representing an area of the house. Ruiz didn’t have to add anything further as he allowed me to fill in the rest of the house in my mind. Chris Northey’s lighting design effectively created a sumptuous fall look with the necessary earth tone colours of fading browns and hue tones. Jennifer Bakker’s selected appropriate projection designs to add visual context to the scene.
Andy Roberts’ sound design and Ross Inglis’s musical score successfully underscored some of the intense moments of dialogue. Andra Bradish and Darlene Thomas’s work in costumes and make-up coordination and design strongly delineated the various idiosyncrasies and habits of each of the characters. I especially liked how the makeup on Jill Tonus’s face keenly reflected her illness.
This ‘Stillborn Lover’ company has clearly understood the importance of working together as a gelled ensemble to tell a good story. None of these seven actors ever ventured over the top in reactionary or histrionic moments in this opening night performance. They strongly remained always grounded and, in the moment, while allowing the words of the dialogue to speak for themselves.
I hesitate to point out individual performances here because, as Jeremy Henson wrote in his Director’s programme note: “[these actors] tackle numerous themes and controversial topics [in this play] regarding politics, diplomacy, loyalty, betrayal and power…but in the final analysis I distilled my answer into one word [what this play is all about]…..LOVE!”.
This theme of love is key to understanding the unfolding drama with the characters and its connection to each of them. Spoiler alert – there are two moments of brief nudity which is handled with the utmost care. It is not gratuitous or gaudily presented, but it is necessary for important plot development.
FINAL COMMENTS: As we return to the theatre, I believe the key for community theatres to keep moving forward is to take a risk and select a production that will take actors out of their comfort zones. So much has occurred to all of us over the last two years, and our artistic culture will become part of that evolution and growth moving forward.
Nearly thirty years old, ‘The Stillborn Lover’ still speaks to audiences today if we allow it to do so.
I wholeheartedly recommend seeing this solid production.
Running time: approximate 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
I continue to wear my mask at all theatre performances.
Production dates: July 14, 15, 16, 21 and 22 at 8 pm. July 17 and 23 at 2 pm. Ticket prices are $24 with Student/Senior at $20 taxes/fees included
Warning: ‘The Stillborn Lover’ is meant for mature audiences for its themes, sexual situations and brief nudity.
Performances run at The Scarborough Village Theatre, 3600 Kingston Road, Scarborough. For tickets, visit www.theatrescarborough.com or call the box office at 1-416-267-9292
THE STILLBORN LOVER by Timothy Findley presented by Scarborough Theatre Guild
Producer: Darlene Thomas
Director: Jeremy Henson
Stage Manager: Teresa Bakker
Performers: Clive Lacey, Jill Tonus, Marisa King, Ted Powers, Vivian Hisey, Neil Kulin, Brad Finch