Shay and Linee are old friends from “the big city down south,” who have drifted apart.
Each marries a man and follows him to Whitehorse, where they meet and rekindle their friendship.
The two women get pregnant at the same time, have their children two weeks apart, and later send them to the same daycare.
And then one day the universe splits apart, and they all tumble into the crack.
A daycare worker is pushing the two children together in a double stroller when a car jumps the sidewalk and kills them both.
This is where Celia McBride’s new play So Many Doors begins.
With this script, McBride has taken on a tremendous task. It takes courage to tackle a grief so profound as the death of an infant child.
Audiences don’t come to the theatre to be depressed — and when you open on a note so powerful, how do you maintain that level of drama for two acts?
McBride manages these challenges with a grace that’s wonderful to see.
So Many Doors is infinitely sad. But where it might have been maudlin it’s brave and true. And where it could have been depressing, it’s uplifting.
It’s entertaining, and even funny in spots, though our laughter is often tentative and guilty.
There’s a clue in the program notes to explain how the script avoids plunging into despair — though it’s never more than inches from that precipice. As the playwright tells us, this is not a play about grief, but about healing.
So Many Doors premiers this week in Whitehorse, co-produced by Nakai Theatre and Sour Brides Theatre.
The production is a good fit for the script — pared down, dark, and stark. There are only four characters onstage, the two women and their husbands, Lyle and Jed.
David Skelton’s set, a minimalist black box, and Andrea McColeman’s haunting and often discordant soundscape help to situate all four in the unreality of their grief.
There are no easy choices here, no simple answers.
Each character follows a twisted path, and not all find healing in the end.
There’s a balance between the parts, so that at times the piece feels like it has four main characters.
But it is Shay, played with tight-lipped tension by McBride, that draws all eyes whenever she’s onstage, and whose story emerges.
From early in the play, the plot is moved forward by a powerful sexual tension, all the more compelling because it’s so obviously destructive.
The rejection of good honest love, the affirmation of pointless lust, the disintegration of marriage — some of this is the product of grief, and some was planted long ago.
McBride has given us four well-realized characters, and it’s a pleasure to see them brought to life by four fine professional actors.
Whitehorse audiences have seen McBride and Sour Brides co-director Moira Sauer together before, and know the magic that can result from the interaction of their contrasting styles.
Derek Metz and Corey Turner, playing two very different husbands, add a level of complexity to the mix we haven’t seen before.
It’s this layering of complexities that makes So Many Doors a fine play, and if there is a disappointment here at all, for me it is that I craved just one more layer.
The plot is so well executed, there are no false moves, and the characters’ actions are so true to who they are, that we accept the outcome wholeheartedly.
But how did we get there?
Particularly, since this is Shay’s story, who is Shay?
Shay’s resistance to healing drives the plot, and McBride, both as writer and actor, is so true to her character that we never doubt her journey.
But what drives Shay? Is there a fatal flaw in her character, or its opposite — some hidden and redeeming strength?
The play works because when Shay’s resistance to healing breaks down, we know how it broke. After all the tension of the evening, it’s a satisfying, even an inspiring ending. It would add a zest, like a twist of lemon, if we also knew why.
In November, So Many Doors will travel to Ottawa to appear at CAPACOA, a national conference of arts presenters, and its presenters expect to return with future bookings intact.
The Whitehorse production runs Wednesday through Saturday until October 27, at the Yukon Arts Centre. Tickets are $22, $18 for students and seniors. Don’t bring children.
And don’t miss it.
Al Pope won the 2002 Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.