Celebrating its 30th anniversary with one of the most lauded new plays to come out of Britain, Nightwood Theatre presents That Face, a hilarious domestic nightmare written by 19 year old Polly Stenham. This will be the anchor production in Nightwood’s 4×4 Festival: An Off-Road Event of Women Directors.
This Canadian debut explores the unvarnished pain and comedy that’s so common in dysfunctional relationships.
“It’s about an upper middle class English family that’s been basically blown apart,” explains director Kelly Thornton. “The mother suffers from alcoholism and depression, the father has abandoned them, the daughter’s kicked out of school and the son wants to save everyone.
“It’s very dark but funny, and extremely real,” Thornton says. “My actors are brilliant. Sonja Smits plays the mother and she’s just incredible, wicked and witty and heart wrenching.”
However much the laughs may soften the blows, theatre goers should be prepared for how penetrating and harsh this play is.
Described as “Explosive and Gobsmacking” by the London Observer critic Susannah Clapp, the British often prefer drama that’s all-out psychological warfare, with characters supersensitive to each other’s facial expressions, asking each other why they’re looking at them “Like that.”
“That Face refers to Henry’s face, the son,” says Thornton. “Henry wants to get his mother Martha into rehab, but she says she cannot live without her baby’s face. They do not have a healthy relationship. It’s classically codependent.”
As every family member tries to help the mother recover, she instead craftily nurtures the private addictions of her children, charming them with the perverse power that Martha holds over her kids. Their upbringings have been a tissue of parental failure, but they are outclassed by her manipulative skills.
“Martha is wily like most addicts are,” says Thornton, “and Stenham’s portrayal of families is completely unapologetic.”
That Face runs Oct 26 to Nov 21 at Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs.
The 4X4 Festival
• The 4×4 Festival features three additional productions. For precise times and locations, visit www.nightwoodtheatre.net
• Yellowman is an award-winning play about love and racial prejudice among black people. This production is co-produced with Obsidian Theatre, written by Dael Orlandersmith and directed Weyni Mengesha, running Nov. 2 to Nov. 14.
• No Exit is Jean-Paul Sartre classic existential foray into life’s meaning and how “Hell is other people.” This production is conceived and directed by Kim Collier, running Nov. 11 to Nov. 21.
• Serious Money probes the excesses of greed and consumption in the world of big business. Written by Caryl Churchill and directed by Eda Holmes, Serious Money runs Nov. 20 to Nov. 22.