Not Just Another Play About Home

I had the exact opposite experience at the Tarragon Theatre today watching Another Home Invasion’s final performance as I had less than twenty-four hours earlier at Canstage watching Shirley Valentine. Joan MacLeod has written a beautiful one-woman play that poignantly tells the story of Jean, a devoted wife, who is relentlessly caring for her husband, whose mind continues to wander as a result of a stroke. They wait and dream about reaching the top of the wait list for one of the only old-age homes that will allow them to cohabitate in a room with its own kitchen. This play dramatizes beautifully the power of rooting a story within extreme specific circumstances, with deliberate attention to detail and how it is able to speak volumes with wide appeal. The story is captivating, the character is compelling and the audience is entirely drawn into her world.
Another Home Invasion speaks about the importance of things that most of us cherish, and yet often take for granted. Our home, for example, and our health. It speaks about the freedom that we have to choose for ourselves, even if we only choose what we eat for supper, that choice becomes a novelty sometimes if you are a senior citizen. The play speaks about how futile our entire life’s accomplishments can seem in a moment of powerlessness. The fact that your house is paid off, the success of your business, the birthdates of your children, even your opinions and feelings and thoughts can be rendered utterly insignificant by the bureaucracies of “efficient” society. How many lives have ended tragically as human beings requiring “extended care” are thrust into a system that completely disempowered them?
This play made me think of what I consider to be one of the saddest songs I have ever heard, Bette Midler’s rendition of “Hello in There.” How many mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, husbands and wives, live far removed from the world as they grow older, without anyone to confide in or to share their stories with? What dynamic stories have been lost to time because no one bothered to ask an older soul to share his or her opinions and experiences? Who will give these people a voice and fight for their rights?
Jean is a character living in North Vancouver, British Columbia. She has two sons who live away from her and a daughter who is too busy to have supper with her parents. She adores her husband with fierce, heartbreaking loyalty and she has to pay her granddaughter to come and do the vacuuming. Jean is her own unique woman with her own unique set of challenges, and yet I found, especially in her speech patterns, that I could absolutely relate to her. The way she talked about the suspicious “fella” who came around her house one Tuesday, how she spoke about “trousers” and her granddaughter’s “little friend” and how she pronounced interesting “inneresting…” my grandmother, who grew up on Prince Edward Island, lives in Halifax, has two daughters who live nearby, one of which has supper with her almost every day, and one who lives far away, whose husband died twenty years ago, and whose granddaughter absolutely adores and reveres her, speaks the exact same way. I’m sure I’m not the only person in that theatre who became overwhelmed with the urge to call someone they loved and thank them, or ask them how their day was, or remind them not to open the door to strangers.
Of course an extraordinary actress is required to bring Joan MacLeod’s character and words to life or else it is all lost. The formidable, inimitable Nicola Lipman gives a characteristic strong, nuanced, beautiful performance in this show. I have had the privilege of watching Lipman grace stages in this country since I was fifteen years old, and she continues to awe and inspire me with each new production that is fortunate enough to have her. If MacLeod has given Jean a voice, it is Lipman who brings every essence of her to life. She attaches such solemn significance to the most seemingly innocuous of things: her Aquafit class, her neighborhood, a notebook, but it becomes apparent that these are all that Jean has left to hold on to. Her husband is slipping away from her, and as she speaks his name at the end of the play, and the lights very slowly fade to black, with one word, Nicola Lipman can break your heart

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