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July 11/14

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The date that appears above is the date of the most recent reviews. As new reviews are added, the date will change accordingly. The new reviews will appear towards the top of the page and the older ones will move further down. When the page is closed, the items will be archived according to the final date on the page.

Reviewed here: birdy (Play); Labor Day (DVD)

birdy...or how not to disappear (Play) written and performed by Karie Richards; directed by Jeff Culbert; Toronto Fringe, to July 13

We haven’t been getting to much Fringe theatre in recent years, but this was a must-see. Given that it’s the work of a dear friend, however, it would be implausible for me to claim to offer an objective review of the piece. But that shouldn’t preclude its being mentioned as an important event in our cultural life here at Dilettante’s Diary.

Birdy is a young woman who means well but worries all the time. She wants everybody to be happy but she’s tormented by the fact that she can’t meet everybody’s needs. She tells us about poignant encounters with strangers that leave her aching with the awareness of our isolation from one another. She recalls significant moments in family life that have instilled these sensitivities in her. The thread running through it all is some mystery about her father. She keeps trying to understand what the problem was with him. Could it have impacted on her difficulty coping with life?

You might think it could get tiresome listening to somebody spew their anxieties for fifty minutes. But Ms. Richards lays it all before us with gentle humour and even a touch of song. What makes the show compelling is that she communicates to her audience with tremendous sincerity and conviction. You feel that she’s speaking directly, person to person. Especially when she admits the trouble she had trying to decide what to wear for this meeting with you.

 

Labor Day (DVD) written by Jason Reitman, based on the novel by Joyce Maynard; directed by Jason Reitman; starring Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith; with Tobey Maguire.

This scenario again: an escaped criminal is befriended and sheltered by decent folks. In this case, the convict (Josh Brolin) has inveigled his way into the home of single mother, Adel (Kate Winslet) and her thirteen-year-old son (Gattlin Griffith). Mom and boy soon twig that the cops are looking for their visitor, that he’s a convicted murderer and that he’s considered dangerous. Still, he’s somewhat hunky and it turns out that he’s not only a good carpenter, mason, car mechanic and electrician – but he’s even a tremendous chef. Just the kind of guy a single mom needs around the house.

It follows, of course, that we must find out that the so-called murder he’s convicted of wasn’t actually the dastardly deed that everybody thinks it was. This involves a certain amount of flashback. The same device gives us the mom’s backstory. These retrospective sequences were so elusive, in an arty way, that I had trouble figuring out what was going on. You, being smarter than I, probably won’t have the same bother.

Backstory be damned, however, the law enforcers don’t give a hoot about finding out how nice the Brolin guy really is. They just want him in their clutches – dead or alive. The movie does build lots of tension, especially towards the end, through various plot twists – although none of them seems to lead directly to the eventual outcome of the story.

In terms of the acting, Mr. Brolin and Ms. Winslet each have two modes of expression: stoic and grim for him; pensive and anxious for her. The boy is one of those young actors who’s considered highly suitable for the movies because his perfectly calm, immobile face never shows any hint of any temptation to do anything like acting. Through much of the movie, we get narrative voice-over from his point of view. The tone is far too literary for a kid; it’s almost like a parody of a young brainiac. And yet, it’s not as if this kid is destined for a Nobel Prize in literature: thanks to the tutelage of the Brolin character, the boy ends up owning a bakery.

To get to that point, the movie has to leap ahead many decades, spinning out a sentimental epilogue that goes far beyond the point that would have made a neat, taut ending. It’s not hard to imagine that, without all that wrap-up melodrama, the piece might work well as a succinct, tense stage play. Is the movie version good enough for a lazy evening on the couch? Just barely.

You can respond to: patrick@dilettantesdiary.com