Alexandra Solheim reviews Bitter Root, which went up during the On the Rocks festival.
An article showcasing a portion of the play can be found here http://www.thetribeonline.com/2013/04/student-playwright-spotlight-bitter-root-by-joanna-alpern/.
Bitter Root, a student-written play by Joanna Alpern, centers around a middle-aged couple that has moved to the countryside to cope with the tragedy of their only son’s suicide. Despite the plot’s heavily depressing origins, fresh and comical interferences of family members and a rude neighbour lighten the mood as the play progresses.
Cara Mahoney delivered a solid and convincing presentation of Laura, a mother so absorbed with grief and so fixated on finding answers that she closes herself off to everyone and everything around her. Mahoney artfully pulled the audience towards her and to the plight of her character; she so convincingly brought her character to life that one could almost feel the aura of depression the she conjured for the part.
Graham Richardson portrays her spouse and counterpart: the husband trying to move on from tragedy. Throughout the play the sympathy and admiration for John (Graham Richardson) grows as he consistently demonstrates determination and patience in helping his wife come to terms with the tragic event, despite the fact that she persistently turns down his assistance.
Charles Bell, Katherine Weight, Coco Claxton and Dominic Kimberlin presented believable characters that added to the richness of the cast and show as a whole. Katherine Weight demonstrated her range as she played both Lily, successfully capturing the spirit of an annoying 5-year old girl, and the old Mrs. Wallo; her interpretation of the older character brought to mind a fusion of the mannerisms of a 40-year old school teacher and Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. Her flexibility in switching between the two roles was admirable. The lack of old-age makeup to give her the physical appearance of her elderly character is the only real complaint that can be brought forward about her performance.
Joanna Alpern, as writer and director, gave her audience a believable account of a couple’s strife through a tragedy but ensured that her show would be enjoyable by colouring the plot with comical inferences. The poetic monologues, most memorably when Laura compares the lilies to her dead son, can at times wander too close to cliché, but Alpern managed to pull them off and they strengthened the feeling of desperation that ran through the play. As a reviewer and audience member I thoroughly enjoyed this play and it was certainly a worthwhile experience.
Photo credits go to Ben Anderson, Lightbox Photography, and On the Rocks