ELLE Canada reviews opening night of DocBy Ava Baccari, Photography courtesy of Soulpepper Theatre Company
For a country that loves being labelled light-hearted, we have a pretty dark sense of humour. Ottawa Citizen film critic Jay Stone once wrote that "if you judge us by our films, we're a country filled with dysfunctional families, incest and tragedy."Last night's packed theatre for the opening night of Doc at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto's Distillery District, proved that we don't really mind if this attitude also creeps up onto our stage (well, minus the incest.) New Brunswick-born playwright, Sharon Pollock, loosely bases her 1984 play, Doc, on her experience growing up in the midst of family dysfunction, tragedy and suicide (the Holy trinity of successful memoir-writing) which premiered to standing ovations last night. The play begins with Katie-now-Catherine (a Prodigal's Daughter performance by Carmen Grant) returning home long after her mother's death to visit her father Everett (RH Thomson) and come to terms with her painful past, most of which she blames on her workaholic dad: doctor, local hero, who neglected his family while tending the wounds of everyone else. But his company isn't just his own misery, as he's haunted by the memories his wife, Bob (a spellbinding performance bursting from Jane Spidell) and the path he paved for her self-destruction and eventual OD. Ghosts of Dysfunctional Family past float in and out of time --imagine characters stepping through a stage set of Roadrunner's silhouette cut-out -- taunting their present-day selves with memories of past mistakes. The production unfolds with "If-I-knew-then-what-I-know-now" interplay of past and present--at one point Catherine literally embraces young Katie (a sparkling debut from Hannah Gross- of the Paul Gross-Martha Burns dynasty) when she learns the real story of her grandmother's death. (Look for the captivating 20-year-old in future playbills. A spiffy-looking Mr.Gross was in attendance last night. And yes, he still smoulders.) Director Diana Leblanc reprises Pollock's award-winning production-- running until September 18-- with dark wit (the kind that skewers) as characters move from heaping blame on one another to seeking redemption. Doc's BFF Oscar (a heartwrenching Derek Boyes) delivers razor-sharp insight on the pitfalls of Doc's overzealous philanthropy- lines like "you got you're eyes set on the horizon and you'll trample on anyone to get there" spike chills in the coolly conditioned theatre. Still wondering what it would be like if your dad doubled up as your family doctor? Perks like copious amounts of get- out-of-gym doctor's notes and stockpiled first aid kits-- much like perfect coifs on picture day for a hairdresser's kid and leftover lunch feasts for Jamie Oliver's progeny--are a fraction of the experience. The rest of the fun is seen when one of those kids grows up to write down all those bumps and rides, giving us a reason to head out to the theatre (time and time again) and see what one playwright's experience with Dr. Dad was really like. Deets: Doc, Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Distillery District. Aug. 26-Sept.18. Call (416) 866-8666 for tickets.