TORONTO, MISSISSIPPI by Joan MacLeod
Directed by Joan Etienne
With Carolyn Goff, Graeme Powell, Michael Serres, Nicole Vezeau
Not only is good live theatre meant to entertain us, but also it must make us think, consider, ponder and react. The Durham Region theatrical 2016-2017 season has certainly presented plays that have made us feel a myriad of emotions, and Theatre 3x60’s presentation of Joan MacLeod’s TORONTO, MISSISSIPPI is one which makes us examine closely those in our world who are seen as different.
The title of this play has always intrigued me on why Ontario’s capital city is somehow connected to an American state. I completed some research for clarification and discovered some relevant social justice and human issues about the plot. TORONTO, MISSISSIPPI looks at the changing dynamics of male/female relationships and the emergence of the one parent family. As well, Ms. MacLeod worked with intellectually disabled adults and children for over a decade as a life skills instructor, and therein lays the tremendous respect the playwright and Director, Joan Etienne, hold for these unique individuals who have their own abilities and challenges in coping with the struggles of daily life.
Further research revealed that the central character, Jhana, is based partly on a friend of Ms. MacLeod’s who is a ‘very lovely woman’ with mental challenges. In seeing Theatre 3x60’s fascinating presentation of this story it still puzzles me how, in our supposed advanced twenty-century world of acceptance, we still use labels to define individuals. By the conclusion of the play, we recognize that some may always see any disability as a challenge; however, as the playwright points out in her author’s note at the beginning of the script, Jhana and all who are labeled as handicapped also bring great joy. Keep in mind, however, that at times this joy is sometimes overshadowed by this story’s vitriolic and spiteful language.
Joan Etienne has cast this production extremely well. Nicole Vezeau plays the eighteen-year-old Jhana with admirable passion and significant stamina. There are moments of heightened physicality in her performance and I wondered where Ms. Vezeau finds the strength. To understand Jhana meant that Ms. Vezeau had to trust herself and her instincts and let go. It doesn’t matter if there is any handicap because, as humans, we all want the same thing – acceptance, love and connection.
As the single mother and high school teacher Maddie who probably had to endure a great deal of loss and despair in raising Jhana on her own, Carolyn Goff delivers a tender and vulnerable performance as a woman who has seen it all, heard it all, and endured it all and then some. But all the while, Maddie never, ever, gives up hope for her daughter. I’m sure Ms. Etienne would have had many discussions and dissections with Vezeau and Goff to juxtapose those instances of intense familial connection of love and spirit between mother and daughter versus those moments where our hearts break on account of disconnection and anger in the characters.
Michael Serres and Graeme Powell convey solid and realistic performances as the two male influences that are truly changed by the story’s events. Thankfully these two men are grounded and never venture into token, stock male creations. Serres opens the story as King, Jhana’s father and has-been Elvis impersonator, in performance at one of his ‘gigs’. Behind the bravado of the King of Rock and Roll that he carries into his personal life, it becomes apparent that ‘King’ is a very sad man who has had to endure disappointment after disappointment. His relationship with his ex, Maddie, is strained even when he wants to maintain ties with their daughter, Jhana. Mr. Serres internalizes this sadness through his eyes, which makes his performance intriguing.
As Bill, the morose poet, lecturer, writer and boarder who lives with Maddie and Jhana, Graeme Powell’s performance is endearing and this makes us like him immediately. Bill spends quality time with Jhana; he listens to her, talks to her and treats her in the same way as he would treat anyone else. King disdains this quality character trait in Bill, which leads to some incriminating cuts and jabs with horrible accusations near the play’s end. And yet, we never want to lose faith in Bill because we believe him, we like him, we know he is a good man who has a sense of identity and who he is while Maddie and King are always struggling to find theirs.
Theatre 3x60 is on the move with this production of TORONTO, MISSISSIPPI. According to their website, the company tours a socially relevant Canadian play to schools and to community venues across Durham Region in its mandate to make live theatre accessible to all. TORONTO, MISSISSIPPI will perform at the following locations:
March 24 at 7 pm at the Act One School of Drama, 1775 Plummer Street, Pickering.
March 30 at 7 pm at the Scugog Memorial Public Library, 132 Water Street, Port Perry
April 6 at 7 pm at the Oshawa Public Library McLaughlin Auditorium, 65 Bagot Street.
Donations for each of these performances is Pay What You Can with a suggestion of$20 at the door before each performance. For further information, please visit www.theatre3X60.ca.