Molly Parker takes to the Canadian Stage in Harper Regan at the St Lawrence Centre in Toronto
Expectations run high when a big ticket’s in town, especially when it’s Canadian-born, House of Cards star Molly Parker, currently heading up Canadian Stage’s Harper Regan.
Parker’s face is plastered on billboards across the city, and it’s difficult to keep your eyes off her when she’s on stage. Will she deliver the same sexy deviousness as she does in the Netflix mega-hit?
The kind of pressure is hardly fair. Harper the character is plain-Jane, down to her cheap, dark green pullover. So in the first scene when your attention shifts to her boss, Elwood Barnes (Hardee T. Linehan), booming at Harper that no, he won’t give her time off to visit her dying father, you’re aware of the shift and that you’re not focused on Harper.
Then when Barnes’ barrage of a performance is followed by sudden amped-up, death-metal music, used to identify breaks between scenes, you yearn for Harper’s calm, unobtrusive presence. She’s like a breath of theatrical fresh air on a set crowded with big sounds and larger-than-life personalities, Harper’s daughter Sarah (Vivien Endicott-Douglas) included.
British playwright Simon Stephens’ Harper Regan is a contemporary Shirley Valentine, sans English accents. The play is built on the events surrounding Harper’s trip to her father’s deathbed.
Harper leaves her home, family and work to embark on a soul-searching Odyssean journey. For one weekend, the middle-aged woman dips into a lifestyle that’s far removed from the norms of her British hometown complete with drugs, sex, and those booming rock-and-roll interludes.
Alone in a bar, Harper seduces a journalist (Philip Riccio who played the brooding poet in The Seagull), cracks a wineglass on his neck, and stands victorious in his leather jacket.
“The magic jacket,” whispered my theatre guest. Indeed, from that point on Harper was finally the sexy, devious woman we had come to see. Although, ironically, by that point in the play the connection to House of Cards had diminished – this was now Harper Regan’s story.
The hotel room scene, where Harper ends up with a man she’s found online, was engaging and funny. But again, as in several places in this Toronto production, I had to suspend my disbelief. The nighttime lover, James Fortune (Alex Poch-Goldin) was the same actor who played Harper’s husband. The nurse was played by Harper’s daughter. Maybe director Matthew Jocelyn was helping us investigate another perspective. But it was also confusing.
The program notes state that by leaving without notice Harper is “putting her family and everything she’s ever worked for at risk.” She’s the only bread-winner, I get that. But her family’s reaction is overblown and the play doesn’t help us understand the emotional side.
In fact a lot of poignant, heart-breaking stuff happens to Harper Regan over the weekend. But I left the theatre feeling disconnected. I wanted a break from the bright lights and booming music, and more of the quiet introspection of the final scene. Maybe that’s in the sequel.
- Harper Regan (Canadian Stage) is playing at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front St. E) from March 1-22, 2015 evenings and matinees.
- Tickets range from $30 to $99 can be purchased online or by phone 416-367-8243.
Photo of Molly Parker by David Hou
One thought on “Review: Harper Regan (Canadian Stage)”
I totally agree with this review. The booming music spoiled Parker’s highly nuanced performance and had me and other audience members cowering with our fingers over our ears at the end of each scene. Totally unnecessary, Mr Jocelyn. Turn down the volume and let the audience absorb what they’re witnessing without worrying that their ear drums are bleeding.
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