Morris Panych’s new play, Withrow Park, has the benefit of being named after a familiar landmark in Toronto and of being a marvelous piece of theatre done to perfection at the Tarragon Theatre. It is directed and acted by some of the best theatre people around. Jackie Maxwell directs a splendid cast made up of Benedict Campbell, Nancy Palk, Corrine Koslo and Johnathan Sousa.
The play is set in the comfortable living room of a house with a view of the park and the plot is made up of a mystery wrapped in hilarious one-liners. Arthur (Benedict Campbell) is a retired schoolteacher who loved teaching but hated children. He just realized that he is gay but his lover has left him for a dog-walker in Arizona. He is distraught and thinks that he perhaps is not gay after all. His ex-wife reminds him that you can’t go back in the closet once you have come out.
Campbell gave a superb performance. His Arthus is not having a good life. He is living with Janet (Nancy Palk) who is his ex-wife and her sister Marrion (Corrine Koslo) whom he dated before meeting Janet. She describes him as emotionally unreachable and when he is about to leave her, she tells him that she loves him and adds the rejoinder “but don’t come back.” Campbell times his delivery for maximum effect. He hesitates, pauses, grimaces, smiles, agonizes and makes us laugh.
Nancy Palk’s Janet is a no-nonsense woman who does everything for her inept husband and her useless sister who sits with a book on her lap without ever reading it. Palk has that marvelous voice and attitude that suits the role of Janet. She does everything around the house and looks for a way out of there. A wonderful performance as usual.
Koslo’s Marion spends her time doing nothing and looking out the window on the park and imagining things. She has a sharp tongue and delivers Panych’s one-liners with panache.
Johnathan Sousa’s Simon is the mysterious character who knocks on the door at the beginning of the play and provides the additional element to the dysfunctional existence of the three residents of the house. Simon is new to the neighbourhood and he has an exotic and unknowable background. He seems to have come for dinner but he addresses the audience directly while the other three stay petrified in their chairs. He tells us that he has been murdered. We meet him after dinner, having dessert but the family has no recollection of him ever coming to the house after the initial knock on the door.
We see him with arms stretched out like a statue of Zeus with the other members of the family sitting motionless in the dark and he announces that he has been killed and of course is dead.
The play (and Panych himself, perhaps) is preoccupied with death including Marion who tells us that she intends to commit suicide. She watches people in the park and her imagination goes in overdrive.
Panych wraps the play rather quickly when Arthur departs and the two sisters look wistfully into the light.
Ken MacDonald’s beautiful set shows a comfortable living room with large windows looking onto the park. Jack Maxwell directs the play splendidly, always careful of timing and making sure that the funny one-liners are delivered dead-on and maintaining the non-realistic mystery scenes with the visitor Simon.
A funny, thoughtful and splendid play in a terrific production.
Withrow Park by Morris Panych opened on November 15 and will run December 3, 2023, at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario.