Taking Leave at Langham Court Theatre March 3-18, 2017. A review.

Taking Leave at Langham Court Theatre March 3-18, 2017. A review.

Taking Leave by Nagle Jackson is a contemporary and timely examination of an impending public health crisis, writ small through the life of the family of esteemed Shakespeare scholar Dr Eliot Pryne (Alf Small).  At 62 Eliot is seemingly too young to be ravaged by Alzheimer’s—it’s a fact his daughters are having a hard time coming to grips with: Alma (Tammy Johnson) the eldest, is all bristle and nerves; Liz (Renée Yakemchuk), a sleek and sophisticated TV personality, brooks no nonsense in her desire to take control while Cordelia (Kayla Hamilton), the “baby”, has finally come home from her bohemian life and dissolute ways.  Overseeing Eliot’s care is the unflappable Mrs Fleming (Geli Bartlett strikes the perfect tone of friendly and calm competence) while Eliot-Once-Removed (Randy Parker) gives the audience insight into the man who was.

Kayla Hamilton, Tammy Johnson, Renée Yakemchuk. Photo: David Lowes

In his first set design for Langham, Sean Thompson presents a homey interior with deconstructed walls, their gaping boards a visual reminder of the gaps in Eliot’s memory and mental processes. Joyce Kline has provided all the accoutrements of a comfortable home where academic pursuits reign—books jostle one another in the under-the-stairs shelves, certificates line the walls and family photos the stairwell, the sideboard is well-stocked with decanters and liquor bottles (used liberally by the characters throughout) and an oil painting of King Lear (Eliot’s definitive research subject) has pride of place.

Costumes (Pearl Arden and Jane Krieger), while contemporary (the play is set in 2000 in Seattle), truly highlight the different natures of the characters—fashionable for Liz, fuss-budget for Alma, punk-rock for Cordelia.

Jason King’s violin-infused sound design provides an aural commentary to the drama and comedy of the family’s situation. Karrie Ayotte’s lighting design fades and flares, encompasses and isolates, as Eliot has moments of lucidity, and falls into incomprehension, struggling to find words.

Taking Leave represents a departure for Small, known for his roles in musicals at Langham; he more than meets the challenge of presenting Eliot as both touching and profane, funny and exasperating, loving and infuriating.

Finding the parallels to Lear in his own life, Eliot-Once-Removed (Parker is warm and avuncular as the once-respected teacher) keeps up a running commentary on the man he has become.  Presented mainly on the sidelines, as observer, he occasionally interacts with Eliot-Now and these moments are particularly moving—a reminder of how easy it is to forget the complete person.

Geli Bartlett and Alf Small. Photo: David Lowes

Rather than approach the conundrum facing the family solely as a drama, Jackson dares to find ample humour in the situation. It’s uproarious (and shocking) when Eliot drops his bathrobe to walk, naked as a jay-bird, into the street. Likewise, the foibles and character traits of the sisters are bound to be reflected in many an audience member’s family. Scenes where the sisters call to mind unresolved squabbles are particularly finely rendered—it’s hard to believe Johnson, Yakemchuk and Hamilton aren’t related with the ferocity of their pointed verbal jousting. A newcomer to the stage, Hamilton is folded seamlessly into the ensemble. Angela Henry’s direction is masterful and nuanced, eliciting both laughter and the sad heartfelt sigh of recognition.

Taking Leave doesn’t provide ready or easy answers—as Cordelia takes over the charge of caring for Eliot, there are sure to be complications on the horizon.

Taking Leave by Nagle Jackson
Langham Court Theatre
March 3-18, 2017
Previews 2 for $20, Tuesdays 2 for $30, $16 (students) $20 (seniors) and $22 (regular)
Available at the Box Office (Monday- Saturday noon-4pm and during performance weeks Tuesday-Saturday 4pm-8pm), by phone 250.384.2142 or online.

Production Team

Director Angela Henry
Assistant Director Kathy Macovichuk
Producer Jane Krieger
Stage Manager Kathy Macovichuk
Asst. Stage Managers Quinn Mactavish & MaryEllen Law
Set Décor Joyce Kline
Properties Maureen Colgan
Set Design Sean Thompson
Lighting Design Karrie Ayotte
Sound Design Jason King
Costume Design Pearl Arden & Jane Krieger

Cast (in order of appearance)

Eliot Alf Small
Eliot-Once-Removed Randy Parker
Mrs. Fleming Geli Bartlett
Alma Tammy Johnson
Liz Renée Yakemchuk
Cordelia Kayla Hamilton
Disclaimer: I was provided with complimentary tickets to attend the opening night of Taking Leave.          

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