The stage is dim; a couch, side-table, piano and chair re-create a small living room in London Ontario. Spot lighting and a minimal set creates a tense environment as the characters in Squalls of Glass move, speak and interact with one another in rising and falling voices, clamouring and climbing volumes, spontaneous and sudden movement; an altogether astonishing and riveting theatre performance that features an ebb and flow dialogue, the tidal shore of an ocean, a sudden storm on the water.
Tension threads its way through a continuous dialogue that runs as the main plot structure of the play. The dialogue is captivating in many ways and delivered with a naturalness and timing that accomplishes the challenge of making a dialogue based performance more than just a group of people reading off of a script. Another impressive aspect of the delivery lies in the layering within the play. While the audience reads the characters, the characters themselves are reading their own characters. Squalls of Glass, written by Meg Cormack, edited by Jesyka Traynor, directed by Matt Butler, and produced by George Ramos features a relationship between four characters who have been working on a musical production for local theatre. Three of the characters – Larson (Michelle Dumont), the composer, Aaron (Jacek Orzylowski) the producer, and Kip (Mykelti Whiting) the writer – struggle to continue with their production, a musical entitled Downpour, following the suicide of the main actor Dean (Meg Cormack). Although fraught with frustrations about creative control and the need for genuine talent, the relationship between the main characters is one of deep friendship inspired by the common love of creative expression.
The opening of the play features a monologue by Dean, this monologue contains a moving call for people to tell the story of their struggles, a reference to statistics about mental health links directly to the subject matter of the play; “the stories of the twenty-four percent must overflow our societal trench.” As the play progresses, Dean joins two other characters, Elsie (Jesyka Traynor) and Fletcher (Colin Ennis), in a haunting of Larson, Aaron and Kip. Elsie and Fletcher are characters in Downpour, they come out of the musical into the dreams of the creators – as Fletcher says, he must return “back to the refrain.” Along with Dean, these three characters function as direction within the play, they transport the action back and forth in time as well as in and out of reality. To this effect, the spot lights switch back and forth between the dialogue and the characters pause as if frozen in time while one or the other is transported into a haunted space. This separation, however, breaks down as the characters from the musical and Dean manifest themselves increasingly in the present life. As Kip desires reassurance, it is Dean’s voice that appears first. Later, Dean enters the stage, and then at a further point Dean, alongside Elsie and Fletcher, begins to interact directly with the characters.
The dynamic between Dean and the rest of the characters calls reality into question. The creative group truly struggles with the past, while they must figure out how to continue without Dean, they also feel guilt, remorse, and regret towards the way their relationship was strained by their desire to go above and beyond with the musical production. Aaron especially develops strong feelings of guilt as he sees the hurt that his pressure and expectations might have carried. As they continue to produce the play, they constantly argue and they seek some sort of reassurance as they keep telling themselves that it is all going to be okay. One particularly moving instance occurs when Kip and Dean interact within a dark, spot lit stage and Kip calls for Dean to stay as they “can go on pretending,” but Kip is torn, knowing that Dean will only ever “tell me what I want to hear.”
Dean’s struggle with mental health is caught up in the reoccurring image of the falling rain; a constant storm that the other characters fail to hear or see. The struggle also plays out through Dean’s struggle to communicate her feelings with the other character – “I wanted you to know without knowing, I wanted to tell you without saying anything.”
Squalls of Glass takes place early in the morning, in this way the narrative is like the experience of tossing and turning while the mind constantly moves through an inner dialogue that eventually fades into sleep. The characters appear trapped in a room, trapped in the past, unable to sleep or move forward until they acknowledge what happened and how they might move forward. The final scenes of the play carry the message of healing and forgiveness. But first the stage must be clear, the lights cut and hands carry off all the props leaving the stage bare. The sound of falling rain with peals of thunder gently fills the background.
Creative expression is precisely the way in which these characters face reality. Through the musical production of Downpour and ultimately through the theatrical production of Squalls of Glass, the characters and audience are exposed to friendship, trust, care, anger, frustration all at a local and specific instance in time. As a conclusion the characters turn towards reality and acknowledge the importance of Dean’s story as it might exist in their creative work. They had to reach back in time in order to move forward and this movement highlights their responsibility to take care not just of one another but also to take care of what they create. Their characters matter and they can speak to a specific reality.
The closing lines stress an outward movement. Instead of an inward and silenced reaction to the damage wrought by squalls of glass, Dean’s story calls for forgiveness of one’s own ignorance. The story calls for more active life choices to care for others; not to understand the issue in a reductive fashion, but rather to acknowledge your own fragile connection to everyone you love – “healing happens in life, not in shadows.”
When you go:
Thursday, February 16 at 8 PM
Tickets (BUY TICKETS)
$10 Students or Seniors
Advance tickets also available by calling the box office at 519-642-2767
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Squalls of Glass, written by Meg Cormack
Members of a theatre company struggle to finish a musical in order to come to terms with profound loss. Their lives have been knocked askew, and their burdens begin to blur the faint divide between the real world and the psychological.
Starring: Meg Cormack, Michelle Dumont, Colin Ennis, Jacek Orzylowski, Jesyka Traynor and Mykelti Whiting
All ticket proceeds go to the Canadian Mental Health Association Middlesex (CMHA Middlesex).
Directed by Matthew Butler
Edited by Jesyka Traynor
Original Music by Matthew Rodnick
Produced by George Ramos
This play is produced and performed by Western students and alumni with the generous support of the Department of English and Writing Studies, the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, the Hume Cronyn Funds for dramatic performances, and the Arts and Humanities Student Council.