Dying with Dignity: Review of Outhouse Theatre’s Four Places
Outhouse Theatre’s, Four Places (2006) is quite possibly one of the best plays to have graced the Tap Gallery’s stage in recent time. Director, Nicholas Hope, offers up a play without flash, but proves that a good script and solid performances is all that’s needed to create really affecting theatre.
It all begins with Joel Drake Johnson’s script. Siblings, Warren and Ellen, are taking their Mum, Peggy, out for lunch. It all seems very innocent, but from the get go we get the sense that this isn’t an ordinary outing. Warren and Ellen are concerned: they had recently heard from their mother’s homecare nurse, Patty, that she and their father, Jack – who for the last couple of years has been bedridden – were arguing a lot lately, and worse, that she’d been keeping him in a drunken stupor, threatening him and had even attempted to kill him. This makes for some pretty awkward, and at times humorous, lunch conversation. But as the play progresses, we learn that their father has been in pain for a long time and has no quality of life whatsoever. He asked Peggy to end his life for him. This isn’t an easy thing for anyone to face, but after provoking her, Peggy tried to do it, out of love for him. She didn’t, however, have the strength to follow through.
As modern medicine advances further, we are now able to keep people alive for longer and longer. That being said, we aren’t always able to maintain that quality of life. Life may be preserved, but in certain conditions it can be an agony. Peggy only wants to do what she believes is the best thing for the man she loves. But her children find this difficult accept. And it is a natural reaction. None of us want to lose the ones we love. Significantly, the play is called four places, and so we are invited to think of the one unseen character: Jack. In a way, this play is about the control we have over our lives, and we watch as Warren and Ellen, out of the best intentions, take control away from Peggy. At the same time, Jack is denied the ability to take control of his life, specifically how he wants to end it.
This subject will cut close to the bone for a lot of people, and it will no doubt raise a lot of post-show debate. But the most important thing about this play is how compelling it is. Everything about this piece is perfectly rendered: the characters are believable; the plot is well crafted to give a slow reveal that maintains interest from start to finish. Johnson has taken a hot button social issue and gone straight to its heart to reveal how it affects real people. Ultimately, this is a heart-wrenching tale made possible (in no small way) by the performances of the entire cast.
The entire cast put in strong performances; an impressive haul considering the intimacy of the space and writing. Amanda Stephens Lee plays Peggy’s daughter, Ellen. Lee plays the frazzled mediator well, and litters her performance with wonderful moments of vulnerability whilst making sudden moments of tranquility believable.
Jeremy Waters was a standout for the evening, playing Peggy’s son, Warren, a troubled school teacher and divorcee. Waters performs beautifully; his character is highly nuanced with a subtle polish, the result of which is incredibly human.
Kim Hillas plays their elderly mother Peggy – a complex and highly layered role. Hillas strung together the marbles of old age, and married both the clarity and fog that comes with long suffering and deep devotion. There was much integrity to be found in Hillas’ performance.
And last, but not least, we find Briony Williams as Barb, the strident waitress at Peggy’s favourite luncheon spot. Williams was a master of comedy, though she pitches every line perfectly and adds great flair to her time on stage. Williams’ technical skills are superior and she delights upon every entrance, almost stealing the show.
This is a moving and thought-provoking play, performed by a seasoned troupe of actors. If you have the chance Four Places is well worth the trip.
Four Places is playing at the Tap Gallery until the 10th of August. For more information see: http://www.outhousetheatre.org/