"My Heart's A Suitcase" - powerful performances not to be missed

by Clare McIntyre; directed by Rebecca Anne Bloom

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“My Heart’s A Suitcase” opens this weekend at the Lindsay Little Theatre. Written in 1990 by Clare McIntyre, the play won awards for most promising playwright.

Fear and materialistic longing inform this play about an angrily impoverished waitress and a philosophical ceramics teacher in the early stages of multiple sclerosis who share a seaside apartment for the weekend.

Chris, the waitress, is looking to escape for the weekend-- in particular, to hide from a recent traumatic event. She’s frustrated with not being where she wants in life, and seems to be dealing with depression. Hannah, the ceramics teacher, also desires a holiday weekend but ends up facing an unexpected situation of her own when she encounters Elliot, a drunken misfit in the apartment. The holiday is interrupted when Tunis, the wife of the apartment owner, shows up to continue decorating the place, and Chris’s peace of mind is further broken by Luggage, a character there to remind Chris she has to carry her own burden, and Pest, the memory of the moment Chris is trying to forget.

The part of Chris is a heavy character to perform, but Anwen O’Driscoll gives a beautiful performance and adds complexity and depth to the character. O’Driscoll expertly takes the character through depression and disconnect to fear and frustration. Her flawless performance vibrates through the theatre and yet, the emotion is understated enough that you forget you’re watching a theatrical performance and feel like you’re watching a real person. O’Driscoll is currently starring in CBC’s Burden of Truth.

Hannah is portrayed by Ilan O’Driscoll, Anwen’s sister and last minute addition to the cast. Her performance is natural, as Chris and Hannah have a sister-like friendship, but Ilan also brings a quiet contrast to Anwen with a softer delivery and sharp comedic timing. (In some shows, Hannah will be portrayed by Mackenzie Kruyf, who also contrasts Anwen’s performance, but in her own way with a sing-song voice and breezy delivery.)

The play is the first acting appearance for both Andre Canivet, as Elliot the drunken misfit, and Tori O’Neil as Tunis the apartment owner’s wife. But you would never know it. Both actors bring their characters to life. O’Neil makes Tunis familiar as that uncomfortable friend we all seem to have, but there’s a sense of loneliness behind her biting exterior. Canivet goes beyond making Elliot sympathetic and brings a vulnerability to the stumbling alcoholic.

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Veteran actors of the stage round out the cast, portraying the two obvious imaginary characters-- Vasco Silva as Pest, the memory of the man who traumatized Chris, and Katisha Shaw as Luggage, who reminds the characters she cannot carry their burdens for them. While Shaw appears to see directly into the souls of the other characters, Silva delivers violence and tension that swallows the theatre.

Behind the scenes, Rebecca Anne Bloom makes her directorial debut, Dylan Robichaud is co-director, and Kathryn Woolridge-Condon is producer. The same trio recently directed/produced “Murder at the Howard Johnson’s.” David Draper composed original music that enhanced the show. Sound and lighting was by Jeff Gutteridge, and the stage was managed by Nat Copeland and Logan Gerzymisch.

At first glance the play seems to be missing a beginning, middle and end, and seems to be about several people arriving at this apartment, trying to convince themselves that they are relevant, earnestly spouting into the void in search of validation of their existence-- typical thinking for the late 80s, early 90s, and not unlike TV’s Seinfeld or Friends. No one really listens to one another, and no one leaves the weekend a changed person.

But on deeper examination, maybe this play is about Chris facing her own demons and all the other characters are facets of her psyche-- with Hannah being the person Chris aspires to be. Perhaps Chris is dealing with her own addictions to money and alcohol as means of escape from her meaningless life-- personified by Tunis and Elliot-- while confronting the inner darkness brought on by the traumatic event. In this context, she’s brought to the apartment by a desire to become a better person and she leaves once she’s confronted and chased off those parts of herself that she carries packed into her heart, for her heart is a suitcase.

This is a show not to be missed. The cast transcends the scriptwriting and fills the theatre with performances that will take your breath away.

“Everyone has his burden. What counts is how you carry it.” -- Merle Miller

Performances at Lindsay Little Theatre

 Friday May 18th at 8 p.m.

Saturday May 19th at 8 p.m.

Friday May 25th at 8 p.m.

Saturday May 26th at 8 p.m. 

Sunday May 27th at 2 p.m.

55 George Street West., Lindsay, Ontario, K9V 4V6

General Admission $20

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