A Woman Is a Secret Perfect Recipe For Spring

awomanisasecret

katie swift & jade hassouné

There is something sweet and magical happening at The Theatre Centre that seeks to sweep out the ice and snows of winter and make room in our hearts for Spring. Rip Jaw Productions, The Storefront Theatre and SideMart Theatrical Grocery have collaborated to bring us the World Premiere of John Patrick Shanley’s A Woman Is a Secret, a Collection of Short Plays, which plays until April 5th, 2015.

The play begins with the daydream of a cranky man. Ricky, played by Noah Reid, goes for lunch with his girlfriend, Pamela (Karen Knox), and quickly loses all control over the situation when a dramatic French server named Blanche (Anna Hardwick) refuses to play by conventional rules. While Pamela relishes this newfound freedom from the constraints of societal norms and the bounds of normalcy, Ricky becomes increasingly infuriated and panicked. Indeed, this shift from the real world into the dream world is one that the audience is encouraged to make as well, as Shanley’s short plays are best experienced with an imaginative and open mind, rather than one that seeks in vain to hammer things down into literal terms.

In the second play a wide-eyed boy named Mike seeks to hear his future from the eccentric fortuneteller Dewey, for whom the knowledge of such things has weighed heavy. Jade Hassouné gives Mike a wide-open wonder and gentle curiosity and he is met by Katie Swift’s erratic and intense Dewey, conjuring ritual and mourning the lives she sees around her wasted on worries of the future.

The third is a a dance of seduction and domination between Sparkle, played with beautiful flighty fire by Molly Flood, and Hank, who waits to devour her, and is played cooly by Trent Pardy. In each of these short plays Shanley leads us down one road and then abruptly turns an unexpected corner to reveal that all is not as we had initially assumed. This play, “Tiny Tragedy,” is the most vivid example where all is not as it initially appears, and to delightful effect.

In the fourth play Anand Rajaram gives a vividly captivating performance as Arthur, a genius and  current dish washer who finds his former lover (Judy) in the courtyard of her new estate and attempts to pull her away from her chosen life of luxury and back into their Bohemian love affair. He pontificates his ideologies at her, but there is a visible magnetism between him and Anna Hardwick’s Judy that keeps them there, unable to entirely leave one another.

“Poland” is a play that sees two emotionally broken people begin to connect over a jigsaw puzzle of West Virginia. There is fragility to this play, as Shanley focuses entirely on how Dennis and Katia slowly begin to do away with the games couples play when they first meet, how they keep their baggage at bay in lieu of walks along the beach, and how they spin the stories of their lives to keep people out of their dark corners, rather than inviting them in. Like all these plays, it is a tussle of power, a tug-of-war of two opposing objectives maneuvering around one another in crafty and surprising ways in attempt to achieve one’s goal. In this case Dennis and Katia find a delicate balance, suggesting that, if even for a moment, a real connection is possible.

The final play is the most winsome. Martha Burns plays Genevieve, an Irish banshee (a melancholy faerie) who happens into the bedroom of an ill schoolteacher, Malcolm, played by Tony Nappo, in the hopes that he will help her bear a human baby. The conflict arises when Genevieve learns how human babies are conceived and Malcolm is initially annoyed and skeptical of Genevieve’s faerytales and her interruption of his sickbed. Yet, Malcolm proves the opposite of cranky Ricky from the first play, and as he begins to embrace the magic, he finds the sweetest joy, which softens Genevieve’s initial horror at the logistics of how human children are made. Burns and Nappo create a beautiful dynamic together which allows for a childlike wonder, a purity of spirit and love, but still with the playful elements of lust. Out of frigid, unyielding, cranky Winter comes Spring, renewed with the promise of kisses, gaiety, softness and magic.

These plays are beautifully and meticulously constructed. I felt like they were John Patrick Shanley’s answer to a David Ives play. They are both buoyant and dense at the same time, the sort of plays that one can revisit or re-read and continually find new ideas to consider and new meaning to uncover. Director Andrew Shaver layers the plays overtop of one another by having the actors remain onstage after their play has finished and contributing to the growing band, which begins with the beautiful music of Maestro Matthew Barber. This feeds the imagery that the play hangs suspended in the Dream World, ephemeral as the Woman’s secret, and that we who loll in Hanna Puley’s garden have been collectively dreaming. And, as in waking, we leave feeling as though the edges of the memory of this experience are fuzzy, we can’t quite connect in words all that we have felt or known or realized, but we know a secret has been shared with us, even if we can’t remember exactly what it was.

A Woman Is a Secret  plays at the Theatre Centre (1115 Queen St. West) until April 5th, 2015. For tickets please visit this website, visit in person, or call 416.538.0988.