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Toronto Fringe Festival 2019: 'Mourning After The Night Before' Review

An affecting piece in the making that can be excellent with more attention to detail.

Photographer: Chloë Whitehorn; models: Abby Gillam, Ryan Helgason, Lauren Helgason.

TRIGGER WARNING: this performance contains depictions of, and discussions about, suicide and mental health. For educational resources about these subject matters, visit this website.

In life, we often spend much of our time trying to understand others, instead of trying to understand ourselves through them first.

Mad River Theatre's Mourning After The Night Before takes us to a place where we simply don't venture out enough, particularly where parenthood is concerned. In it, we see that sorrow has befallen our characters in different ways, characterized by playwright Chloë Whitehorn's aqua centric poetry. Its overuse in places results in awkward pacing, and ironically, tonal dissonance when paired with regular conversation, but it nevertheless enhances the emotional imagery associated with haunting mysteries.

The piece does experience a slow start, with stilted dialogue unsupported by the actors' performances and inconsistent personalities of the teen characters—especially Jack Morton's Everett, as it's unclear whether he's lost in lust, or knows all the answers—although teenagers have always been admittedly difficult to concretely portray in writing. Over time, however, both the narrative and performances reach a crescendo once everyone is confronted with introspections and realities many of us would usually avoid.

Narratives surrounding mental health normally place adolescents in the forefront, but this one focuses primarily on parental figures, and how they rationalize, not just familial tragedies, but their own responses to them specifically. Dave Martin's Drew, Loriel Medynski's Fenwick, and Mary Wall's Lucy, excel in this regard. Even if he occasionally finds congenial solace in Fenwick, who is also unsure as to how to cope with her own losses, Drew ultimately doesn't surrender his honest devotion to his wife Lucy, as she struggles to make sense of her identity in the aftermath.

As humorously relatable and bluntly insightful as Fenwick is, there are things that she too needs to hear; Everett's budding wisdom opens her heart to change, trust, and the ability to accept her feelings about these two notions in a life after loss.

When we recollect memories in relation to a beloved person, whether positive, negative, or even both, we decide how they will impact our way of thinking as we age. For me, Drew—and Everett, in the second half of the play—embodies the concept of becoming susceptible to learning and appreciating what difficult experiences can do for us in terms of shaping our character. This idea is further reinforced by isolated interactions with internal and external environments among the cast, though it is especially evidenced in the poignant duality shared by Lucy and Brianna Richer's Pippa.

Director Heather Keith may want to consider the performers' diction and cadence when delivering their lines; actors like Wall and Martin have exceptional voices for the screen, but they will need to project and enunciate for the stage to avoid instances of mumbling despite the smaller space. Additionally, if Whitehorn workshops the dialogue so that each character's voice sounds more unique, the script will instantly bear even more resonance in its pursuit of hyper-realism.

Cat Ratsuny's music isn't really noticeable, and Brandon Gonçalves' lighting design should be utilized more. Because it is quiet, drama-heavy, and lacks action, I'm not sure if the particular dynamism of theatre is the best medium for this production. Dare I say that I'd be interested to see the script get adapted into a feature-length film someday, which can bring more benefit to the visuals, sound, and intimate, atmospheric moments.

However, there is potential in what we've got. With improvements, I'm nevertheless confident that Mourning After The Night Before will help future audiences tread unsettling waters.

'Mourning After The Night Before' plays at Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse until July 14, 2019. Visit here for the full schedule and other details. 

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Toronto Fringe Festival 2019: 'Mourning After The Night Before' Review
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