Last night’s final performance of Beside Herself at Market Hall was an experimental, intimate production from Mysterious Entity that makes me glad to live in this small town with so much local talent, because I likely wouldn’t see it anywhere else.
Written by Tara Beagan and directed by Em Glasspool, Beside Herself unabashedly tackles mental illness. And not just one form of mental illness, but addiction, co-dependence, depression, suicide and dementia in the context of 2 families. Michaela Washburn and Patti Shaughnessy do justice to the 4 characters whose lives are interwoven in different time frames through the lens of mental illness.
I saw Tara Beagan do a reading of one of her stories at the Whetung Centre at Curve Lake a few years ago on a cold winter’s afternoon. As a handful of us sat in the circle with a grand crackling fire in the next room while we listened to her tale, it was clear she possessed the storyteller’s craft. I liked her then both as a performer and as a writer.
Beagan’s accomplishments are many. Artistic Director of Native Earth Performing Arts, she has won a Dora Award for Best New Play, been playwright-in-residence at the National Arts Centre and written and acted in numerous plays for stage, film and radio.
Not only was the subject matter challenging, but the form of Beside Herself was too – less a linear story and more a collage assembled with bits of dialogue, washes of transparent memory and emotion, layers interacting to create depth. This play is experience, not entertainment, and perhaps not entirely successful. Its exploration of the effect of depression and addiction on families overreaches and is too kind; the timeline, character and gender changes at times were a stretch to follow. Nonetheless, I was glad the envelope was pushed. This is a very hard line to walk honestly and its full impact seeps in long after the play is over.
Jimson Bowler’s moveable set of birch branches and cardboard and Rob McInnis’ complimentary lighting were wonders of economy and mood; in conjunction with choreography by Bill James, they played an important role in defining time and place.
Kudos to Em Glasspool and Mysterious Entity for letting Beside Herself be a vehicle for their mandate of “illuminating the complexities and diversities of our community” and not flinching from this shadowy subject which effects all of us.