By Daniel Brooks. Directed by Kim Collier. An Electric Company Theatre production, in association with the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and BMO. At the Vancouver Playhouse on Wednesday, January 9. Continues until January 12
The Full Light of Day is enormously ambitious. On a technical level, it dazzles. But despite the production’s abundant strengths, its story doesn’t quite reach the heart.
Playwright Daniel Brooks focuses his script on a wealthy family, the Whites. Patriarch Harold is a real-estate mogul (today’s equivalent of the tragic hero of ancient Greece, apparently) who has spent his life putting up a lot of “ugly buildings”, according to his wife, Mary. His eldest son, David, has taken over the business and moved its already shady dealings into even deeper shade. Daughter Jane has thrown herself into her own work as a realtor to avoid grieving the loss of her husband to suicide. Youngest son Joey appears to have a bigger conscience than his siblings, but he can’t figure out quite how to use it.
The first act, which clocks in at over an hour and a half, introduces us to the family members as they prepare to celebrate Mary’s birthday. There are hints that something is amiss, both with Mary’s health and with Harold’s business, and the plot circles back on itself in surprising and revealing ways, but it’s never entirely clear what’s at stake—or whether there’s anyone on-stage we’re supposed to like enough to care about. (The most sympathetic character is dispatched disappointingly early.)
The story improves considerably in the second act as Mary, on her deathbed, confronts the shadowy side of her privilege and negotiates new relationships with her family members. But the blend of realism and myth in the action doesn’t always land comfortably.
To dwell on the story, though, is to overlook this production’s most significant achievement: its staging as a hybrid of film and theatre. Director Kim Collier and director of photography and projection design Brian Johnson have created an extraordinarily immersive world for this play, blending live action and film in breathtaking ways. Atmospheres are projected onto a scrim in front of the set; huge, live close-ups of actors’ faces appear on the walls themselves; actors sit in an actual car on-stage while the streetscapes roll past on-screen, larger than life. It’s extraordinary, and the creators’ inventiveness is seemingly inexhaustible.
Within this world, all of the actors are tremendous. Watching the emotions play on the projected face, big as a house, of Gabrielle Rose’s Mary is a study in nuance, as is seeing Jim Mezon gradually scrape away the lacquer on Harold’s tough exterior. Jonathon Young’s Joey is utterly charismatic in his confusion; Young also shines as a preacher in a later scene. Jillian Fargey brings both steel and warmth to the role of David’s wife, Sherry, one of the few characters in the play capable of reaching out with kindness. Jenny Young and Dean Paul Gibson both do excellent work as Jane and David, though Jane in particular feels underwritten.
Julie Fox’s set is a stunner, with tall structures that can be moved around to accommodate the script’s cinematic quality—lots of short scenes and frequent changes of location—and its cinematic content; its surfaces are both handsome on their own and well-suited for projection. Peter Allen’s original music leans heavily toward the sentimental, though.
For me, the characters and events of The Full Light of Day don’t resonate as real enough to induce the big emotions that I think the creators want me to feel. Nonetheless, the stellar acting and formal ingenuity of this play deserve sustained applause.