Saturday, February 15, 2014

Theatre: Way Back to Thursday

Way Back to Thursday is a two-hander musical, chronicling the relationship between a boy and his grandmother over a period of about 15-20 years.  As an 8-year-old child living with his single mother, Cameron looks forward to the Thursday visits to his grandmother's house.  Together they watch movies, including golden oldies featuring Rock Hudson, while grandma regales Cameron with made-up tales of her past as a movie star.  As the years past, the two grow apart as Cameron tries to distance himself from his grandmother to hide the secret of his sexuality.  Moving across the country to Vancouver, Cameron ignores his grandmother's calls and pleas to come visit until it is too late and she becomes too overcome by dementia to recognize or respond to him.

The two actors alternate songs and point of views throughout the 90 minute show.  Each magically age on stage before your eyes, through the use of quick change in wardrobe, hairstyles, voice and posture.  Despite being a tall, lean, adult, Rob Kempson, also the creator of the play, does a great job of making you believe he is an eight year old boy.  Astrid Van Wieren, as Grandma, starts as a vibrant, sassy senior who dances around the stage.  But as she ages, she develops a limp, her body stoops, and when dementia sets in, the results are devastatingly realistic.  Both actors delivered strong and touching acting and singing performances.

The song cycle approach and the use of the different parts of the stage to represent the initial emotional closeness and later, the distance of the pair, is reminiscent of the Jason Robert Brown musical "The Last Five Years".  Grandma and Cameron start off their Thursday play-dates to the right of the stage with their chairs side by side.  When Cameron relocates to Vancouver, he physically moves his chair to the far left of the stage.  A small set of steps in the centre of the stage further accentuates the gulf between them.  As an interesting aside, the music for "Way Back to Thursday" was composed by Scott Christian, who also wrote "The Misfortune", which we saw at winter Fringe a few weeks ago.

What is the most tragic about this story is all the wasted time and energy Cameron spent hiding a secret that Grandma implies in song that she already knew or at least suspected.  There are parallels drawn to her own secret, that she was never really a movie star, but made that up to entertain her grandson.  This part seemed a bit weak and forced to me.  Watching this musical makes you want to rush out, spend time with your loved ones, and tell them you love them ... before it's too late.

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