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The Full Light of Day sometimes finds message obscured by clashing mediums | The Star

The Full Light of Day

By Daniel Brooks, directed by Kim Collier. Until June 13 at the Bluma Appel Theatre, 27 Front St. E. luminatofestival.com or 416-368-4849

Excess, responsibility, complicity. A modern society in profound transition. The relationship between nature, human animals and the built environment. Illness, death, what lies beyond. The perennial struggle for intergenerational understanding. Anger about everything that can’t be understood and controlled.

Daniel Brooks’ and Kim Collier’s epic collaboration grapples, with enormous ambition, with all of these themes. Brooks initially wrote the story as a screenplay; Collier suggested staging it as a film-theatre hybrid. With respect to the talent and craftsmanship that’s gone into the resulting production, I find myself questioning whether this was the best pairing of material and delivery.

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(It was originally directed by Collier for her Vancouver-based Electric Company Theatre, in association with the Banff Centre for the Arts and BMO, co-presented in Toronto by the Luminato Festival and Canadian Stage.)

Brooks’ primary artistic reference is Yasujiro Ozu’s 1953 film Tokyo Story, in which aging parents visit the city and find their adult children inattentive to them — a comment on the changing culture of postwar Japan.

The first act of Brooks’ script tells a similar story, of real estate magnate Harold (Jim Mezon) and his wife Mary (Gabrielle Rose), who travel from their country home to an unnamed major Canadian city at some point in the near future. We are introduced to a very wealthy, unhappy group of people, all of whom are implicated in the legally and morally questionable nature of Harold’s business, which elder son David (Dean Paul Gibson) has taken over, and into which the rudderless younger son Joey (Jonathon Young) has been sucked. Sister Jane (Jenny Young) is a high-powered realtor, but somewhat peripheral to a subplot of corruption and violence that underlies the first act.

The place of Mary in all of this becomes the through-line to the second act, in which she faces the end of her life and is compelled to ask whether ignoring the dirty dealings that provided the family their more-than-comfortable life makes her complicit in them.

Brooks’ script is arguably two epic stories (the family business saga and Mary’s death) grafted into one. The two parts are necessary to each other in that the relationships and personalities established in the first half inform and set the stakes for what happens in the second. But it feels like things would benefit from being fleshed out even more, through the detail afforded in a filmic context or as a novel or miniseries.

This would allow for the secondary female characters to be given more attention and depth, particularly David’s wife Sherry (Jillian Fargey, excellent, as are all the performers), who — earlier than Mary — has made a certain peace with her privilege, but in ways that are surely more questionable than are explored in this material, which positions her as a virtuous, even saviour figure.

The means by which we’re afforded intimacy with the characters is through live filming: close-ups are projected onto the walls behind scenes as they are played in real time (the actors wear body mics to allow them to speak at a naturalistic level). This works most effectively in inviting spectators into Mary’s and Harold’s relationship: they lie on the bed and talk through what just happened at her birthday party and we see their expressions and reactions up close. This and episodes of them driving to and from the city involve some of Brooks’ most well-observed writing.

Where the enterprise faltered for me was in some surprisingly clunky writing around the seedier aspects of the family’s life. It’s credible that Harold, David and Joey would have connections to organized crime, but those scenes and characters feel like they’re grafted in from a less nuanced esthetic world. While Gibson plays it with convincing bombast, an early episode of David behaving badly at an expensive restaurant is overextended, and there does not appear to be clear motivation for Joey to be filming his antics other than to provide live feed video.

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A concern here and throughout the show is the length and relative awkwardness of physical scene changes, most involving Julie Fox’s monumental set: what could have happened in a purely screened context through a simple cut to a raucous dinner in full flight here involves a number of actors running across the stage making a lot of incongruous noise.

The marriage of the material realities of live theatrical staging and the formal conventions of screen media here clash because audiences’ familiarity with the latter are likely to make them impatient with the former. There’s no fast-forward button.

This is not to discredit the high level of professionalism and skill involved in the production’s technical and design elements (VR filmmaking and dramaturgy by Kevin Kerr, lights by Michael Walton, projection design and direction of photography by Brian Johnson, costumes by Nancy Bryant) but rather to question whether theatre and film are really working compatibly.

By contrast, the screen/live action combination works particularly well in the scenes of Mary’s decline: the close-ups allow us valuable access to Rose’s empathetic performance and painful intimacy with what this production dares to depict. What we see on the screens informs and uplifts this deeply dark material — not in a glib way, but a gratifying one that’s been earned through the sensitive writing of Mary’s character and Rose’s superb playing of it.

What comes next is masculine anger and destruction, played with power by Mezon. The final message (as my viewing companion generously read it) is that the only thing left for humanity is to tear down corrupt systems and structures and rebuild with what’s left.

I struggled with this because I was stuck back on a plot point about an estranged family member and the delivery of a video message. Such are the risks of packing so much plot, theme, characterization and media innovation into a single production: all spectators may not end up receiving the same information and might misinterpret what’s intended.

Another big question is the unattractiveness of many of the characters and their world. King Lear and his kids weren’t exactly the nicest folks either; nor were Tony Soprano and his lot, but their stories compel because audiences are brought inside their struggles and offered ways to identify with them, and because those struggles critique circumstances and systems in which those audiences are implicated.

This play takes us deep inside white Canadian privilege. A character who appears momentarily at the story’s beginning and end (played by John Ng, who offers great versatility in a number of smaller roles) is positioned as an everyman observer of Harold’s life and ends up being right about everything. That outcome did not strike me as a surprise, which calls into question what was at stake in everything that came before.

Karen Fricker is a Toronto-based theatre critic and a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @KarenFricker2

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