REVIEW: Foster Child Play, Review by Aurora Stewart de Peña

Foster Child Play

Written by Alex Napier
Directed by Philip McKee

Presented by Island School

Composer: Katie Stelmanis
Featuring: Nika Mistruzzi, Jackie Rowland, Vanessa Dunn

Presented at Hub 14


August 11th 8:00 PM
August 12th 8:00 PM
August 13th 8:00 PM
August 14th 8:00 PM
August 15th 2:00 PM

Of course this play features my beloved lady love Nika Mistruzzi. It was also assembled by treasured acquaintances Alex Napier (writer) and Philip McKee (director). The highly regarded Vanessa Dunn plays opposite the Neek-ster and Exciting New Young Person Jackie Rowland plays opposite everybody.

So I lean on an extreme bias. It’s okay; one of the reasons I’m friends with these people is because I think they’re smart and talented.

Alex Napier has written a play that my mother would say an actor could “lean up against”. It’s strong and layered, funny and sad. Two young room mates living in a stylishly beige world fall in friend-love over the irreparable damage caused to them by their mothers. In an attempt to create a new and functional unit, Alice (played by Mistruzzi in a pink dress) invites a 17 year old foster child named Tallulah (played by Rowland in hightop sneakers) to come and live in their downtown apartment. Sheila (played by Dunn in pleated shorts) is cautious about the whole situation.

Family damage is at the heart of Foster Child Play. It’s something that most of us have. We can generally look up and find cracks in the ceilings of our childhood homes. These days many of us opt to start over, leaving our families and making new ones out of friends, people we choose for ourselves.To overwrite the past and create a shining present is the challenge Napier gives her characters. Alice goes about rearing Tallulah (mostly already reared as a hair swishing 17 year old) in the most loving, graceful and unintentionally absurd way she knows how, idealizing her brokenness while showering her with immature affection.

Alice, as characterized by Mistruzzi, is a haphazard optimist. She is volatile and excitable, but her foil, Dunn’s Sheila, seems to me to be not so much a pessimist as a realist.* Sheila sees that Tallulah, who seethes with animosity for her but glows inwardly for Alice, is not the innocent country girl with invisible flowers in her hair, but is instead a sexually deviant attention seeking teenager in need of a lot more help than either one of them can give.

Under McKee’s direction, Napier’s carefully chosen words are endowed with the complexity and thoughtfulness with which they were written. Indeed, both writer and director are very good listeners. The very specific, halting, think-while-you-talk pattern of Toronto Girl dialect is perfectly captured and honoured, so much so that conversation over drinks afterwards was a bit self conscious. McKee has made a world that’s tense and vibrant, the lives of the characters unravel with a stately and mysterious progress; a crack, and then another crack, and then another, and then the roof caves in. The audience can see it coming, but that makes it all the more gripping.

Watching these women fall apart together, watching them break and then pick themselves up without successfully dusting off is both upsetting and hilarious. What makes Foster Child Play. so engaging to watch is seeing how hard everyone is trying. Though I’ll bet people will think this is absurdist, it’s very relatable. We’re all working through something, sorting through our pasts. Sometimes it’s extreme, funny and heartbreaking all at the same time.

*It’s been recently brought to my attention that I might be a nihilistic pessimist.

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