Prof. Sehdev Kumar
TORONTO: If you have any interest or talent in any aspect of theatre, where do you go to explore and develop it?
For over four decades now, Tarragon Theatre in Toronto has been developing, producing and presenting Canadian plays for large and enthusiastic audiences.
Over the years, I have seen many excellent Canadian plays at Tarragon that are presented with imagination and artistic aplomb. One such play was Ravi Jain’s ‘Brimful of Asha about a young Indian-Canadian’s struggle to find a bride in India under the watchful eye of his mother.
Joan MacLeod’s play, ‘The Valley’, at the Tarragon is another Canadian play with Canadian concerns and themes that is currently being presented at the theatre. Many contemporary concerns – youth suicides, loneliness and struggles in cities, police insensitivity and high-handedness – are all part of this engaging play.
MacLeod is a well-known Canadian playwright; her plays ‘Jewel’, ‘The Shape of a Girl’, ‘Another Home Invasion’ and several others have all been produced at Tarragon, where she was playwright-in-residence for seven years.
Recipient of many awards, Joan MacLeod brings a well-honed sense of observation to the cultural and political nuances in contemporary Canada. In intimate settings that Tarragon offers in its various theatres, drama is not a spectacle sport but a laboratory for probing the human condition; it is a studio, a place for exploration rather than show off and overwhelm. ‘The Valley’ does that with poignancy and subtlety.
The issues of depression and mental health are at the core of this play. As the playwright observes: “I thought about how my perception of the police changed and didn’t change throughout the years – and how much policing has changed in my lifetime. These days on the downtown eastside in Vancouver over half the police calls are related to issues around mental illness. As I began to write I was interested in examining that in particular and in the concept of protection. In the end this play resides on the same turf as most of my work – that is looking at an issue through the lens of family – or in the case of The Valley two families – and trying to figure out what makes them, and all of us, connected.”
The play is directed by Richard Rose, one of the most outstanding theatre directors in Canada. As the founding artistic director of Tarragon Theatre, over the years Rose has presented some of the most memorable plays. His imaginative handling of actors and overall high production qualities are evident in ‘The Valley’, as they are invariably in his productions.
Tarragon Theatre is indeed a place that caters to the budding and established Canadian playwrights, actors, stage designer and directors. From Nov ember 19-29, Tarragon is presenting a Play Reading Week, free of charge, where ten different plays will be read, discussed and argued over, developed and possibly produced.
‘The Valley’ runs until December 15.
(Prof. Sehdev Kumar lectures on International Cinema in the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto)