Review: Living With Olivia Cadence Donovan (RedWit Theatre)

Photo of Conor Ling, Gabriella Circosta, Allison Shea Reed and Tristan Claxton by Alice Xue for Living With Olivia Cadence Donovan

Living With Olivia Cadence Donovan (RedWit Theatre) is a play about having the most maddening roommate possible.

Emily’s (Allison Shea Reed) roommate Olivia (Gabriella Circosta) is loud, annoying, constantly demanding attention and puts Emily down.

Olivia is Emily’s OCD.

Although Emily is a highly functioning individual, she struggles with OCD. She soon meets a cute boy Graham (Conor Ling), and she is torn between wanting to fall in love like a “normal” person and between the anxiety that he will leave her if Olivia starts acting up. Oh, and Rowan (Tristan Claxton), her really nice roommate, is secretly in love with her.

See where this is going?

Allison Shea Reed wrote the piece out of a drive for people to better understand the illness she has lived with her entire life. A shorter version has been performed before, but this is the first full-length incarnation. Reed was interviewed about the play for the Bell Let’s Talk blog and gives lots of very interesting background.

I really enjoyed how the play portrayed OCD as an actual person. It made the illness very palpable. It allowed us to hear the inner monologue of someone who lives with it.

Unfortunately, there was a lot in this piece that didn’t work for me. I found the play predictable. As soon as I spotted the two guys, one girl set-up, I knew how it was going to end.

The dialogue also felt a bit didactic at times, specifically when talking about OCD. For instance, Rowan’s reaction to Emily’s panic attack in the second act felt too perfect. Also, the turn of phrase Emily uses when telling Graham about her OCD seems more like something straight out of a textbook than a person describing something to a friend.  It was helpful for learning more about the illness but it didn’t feel real or centre the drama.

I also would have liked more context about Graham’s sudden personality shift from ‘very caring boyfriend who has experience with mental illness’ to ‘absolutely inconsiderate.’ The transition seemed to happen out of nowhere.

Something else that caught my attention was that Olivia seemed to be the focus of the show.  From the point of view of informing people about what OCD is, I suppose I can see an argument for that. But in the context of the play, I thought that it detracted from the point that Emily’s life was rich and full – with OCD only being one part of it. It may be an ever-present part, but it doesn’t take over Emily’s character.

Perhaps it was an intentional choice, used to show that the internal monologue is always present. Or maybe Circosta just stole the show. For a character meant to be loud and annoying, I found Circosta’s Olivia to be extremely likable. She was funny and, at times, oddly vulnerable – like when she freaks out that Emily is “leaving” her.

The play has other funny moments too. Almost all the interactions between Rowan and Graham are hilarious. These two characters can be incredibly exuberant.

Overall, I enjoyed the premise of the play. I think it has promise and it would be interesting to see how it would develop with the involvement of some fresh eyes. As it stands, it is a fine way to spend a bit of time, but it ultimately lacked the high stakes or real drama to keep me really engaged.


  • Living With Olivia Cadence Donovan runs from January 15-25 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane).
  • Shows run from Monday to Saturday and start at 8.00pm with an added matinee on Saturdays at 2.00pm.
  • Tickets cost $35 for general admissions and $25 for students and arts workers.

Photo of Conor Ling, Gabriella Circosta, Allison Shea Reed and Tristan Claxton by Alice Xue.