Morris Panych’s “Withrow Park” is a surreal exploration of the human condition, that skillfully navigates the complexities of the human experience, blending wit with a nuanced exploration of characters and relationships Staged at the Tarragon Theatre, the play, directed by Jackie Maxwell, follows three characters in their sixties: Janet (Nancy Palk), her sister Marion (Corrine Koslo), and her ex-husband Arthur (Benedict Campbell). They co-exist in an old Edwardian house overlooking Withrow Park, located just south of Danforth Avenue in Toronto.
The play unfolds with a deliberate pace, allowing for a thoughtful examination of the idiosyncrasies of its characters. Panych’s dialogue is a highlight, demonstrating a keen understanding of language that is both intelligent and accessible. The characters, though exaggerated, possess a familiarity that prompts reflection on the audience’s part. The play’s structure is akin to a series of interconnected vignettes, each contributing to a larger narrative that balances humor and sincerity.
The narrative is a poignant reflection on life’s stagnation and the search for meaning. Arthur, who has recently come out as gay and left Janet for another man, finds himself alone after being left in turn. Marion contemplates ending her life, while Janet grapples with her new reality. Their lives, much like the gentrifying park outside, remain stagnant.
The arrival of a mysterious stranger, Simon (played by Johnathan Sousa), disrupts their monotonous existence. Panych uses Simon’s character to introduce the audience to the larger questions of life and the universe. The characters’ trivial problems are put into perspective when compared to the vastness of the universe.
The humor, while sharp, maintains a level of sophistication, avoiding gratuitousness and instead drawing from insightful observations of human behavior. Panych’s leaves room for the audience to ponder and theorize, creating a more engaging experience. The play operates on a metaphorical level, exploring themes of existentialism and the search for purpose.
The performances are commendable, with each actor bringing depth to their characters. The set design effectively portrays the Edwardian house and the park, immersing the audience in the characters’ world.
The ensemble’s collective energy and commitment to their roles create a synergy that enhances the overall impact of the production, adding depth and nuance to layers of meaning, turning Withrow Park into more than just a setting but a microcosm of the human experience.
Location: Tarragon Theatre, Mainspace (30 Bridgman Ave)
Time: 7:30 pm
Date: November 7 – December 3, 2023
Cover photo: From the left: Benedict Campbell, Corrine Koslo, Johnathan Sousa and Nancy Palk. Photo by: Cylla von Tiedemann/ Tarragon Theatre