Goodnight, Amherst by James Fanizza is a play based on the Tragically Hip song “38 Years Old” that plays at the Bathurst Street Theatre as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival. The play is based on a fascinating idea, but the script seems to gloss over much of the complexity that should be inherent to the story.
Thirty year old Michael has just returned to his family after being incarcerated for twelve years on a murder charge and when it becomes clear that he was not lawfully released from prison his family must make a precarious decision between following their hearts, protecting their loved ones and doing the right thing. What makes this play even more interesting is all the complex familial dynamics which give this play so much potential to delve into the dark issues of loyalty, love, selfishness, despair, heartache and denial that should be ardently pulsating through the veins of all these characters. Unfortunately, Fanizza leaves most of these aspects of the play disappointingly watered down.
Firstly, Michael was sent to prison for a murder he committed unintentionally when, at eighteen years old, he attempted to protect his younger sister from being raped. Yet, despite the fact that his sentence seems excessive, the issue of this injustice is barely explored in the script. His mother, in grief and denial, does not visit her son (nor does his younger sister or brother) for twelve years, and although Michael seems hurt and angry when they are finally reunited, he quickly brushes his mother’s behaviour off, forgives, forgets and adjusts immediately back into the familial dynamic. I think a darker demeanour for Michael would have been a far stronger choice and that the fact that his mother (and the sister who is supposedly his best friend) both abandoned him should have been a more prominent issue for the family to reconcile.
Michael’s younger brother Sean is the only character in the play who brings out the true emotions that all the characters should be experiencing. Sean finds it difficult to reconnect to a brother he barely remembers, he has been sheltered from the truth of his sister’s rape, so he is understandably haughty, wary and livid at his brother for wreaking such havoc on his family. It also helps that Matt Lemche plays Sean, as he is by far the most captivating and intense actor on the stage. His performance, and the complexity he brings to his character needs to permeate over the entire company.
Ultimately, James Fanizza has written a nice play about nice people saying nice things to one another, but the issues he confronts demand grittiness and the intricate blend of love and loathing, resentment and forgiveness that build up in the always fascinating, but not always nice, underbelly of the contemporary family.
Goodnight, Amherst plays at the Bathurst Street Theatre (736 Bathurst Street) at the following times:
Wed, July 7 7:30 PM
Fri, July 9 11:00 PM
Sat, July 10 4:00 PM
Sun, July 11 Noon
all tickets $10 at the door or book in advance by calling the fringe hotline at 416.966.1062 or go online at http://www.fringetoronto.com/.