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Heaven coming down

By Walter J. Lyng

Colleen Wagner’s new play Down From Heaven could not have come out at a better time. Set during an un-identified pandemic, the mass paranoia and fear which pervades this play should strike a cord with anyone who pays any attention to the news and is exposed to endless coverage of the apocalyptic disease of the week — swine flu at the moment.

Beyond being topical, however, Wagner’s play works as an excellent study of the breakdown of human relationships in times of crisis.Down From Heaven takes place over an approximate 10-day time period, in which we see the unraveling lives of the wealthy Braumbach family, living in quarantine in the basement of their own mansion.

Trying to maintain civility no matter how dark the times get, the mother, father and their 16-year-old daughter, Laurel, must rely upon their former gardener, Cheater, for supplies and news from the outside. Because Cheater insists on only dealing with Laurel, she reluctantly establishes a relationship that quickly goes from mutually respectful to horribly exploitative.

The complexity of the issues presented is contrasted by the simplicity of many of the play’s other elements. There are only four characters and the entire story unfolds over three set pieces, with a running time of barely 80 minutes — but none of these are bad things.This is a showcase of some truly great performances, from Chip Chuipka’s sinister yet conflicted Cheater to Amelia Sargisson’s increasingly jaded Laurel. Leni Parker and Bruce Dinsmore are also impressive as parents who desperately try to keep up appearances even as the world crumbles around them.

Director Alain Goulem did a great job in maintaining a consistent pacing and rhythm, getting the best out of his actors’ intense on-stage interactions.

Credit should be given as well to set and costume designer James Lavoie for creating a physical atmosphere of claustrophobic dread and to Troy Slocum’s sound design which seems to have taken a page from Martin Scorsese’s playbook by prominently featuring the Rolling Stones.An early standout in Montreal’s theatre season, Down From Heaven is a must-see for all theatregoers. Catch it at the Monument-National theatre before it finishes its run on Oct. 3.


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