Communion is funny, sad, complicated, and quietly beautiful

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      By Daniel MacIvor. Directed by Roy Surette. A Ruby Slippers Theatre production. At Pacific Theatre on Friday, October 25. Continues until November 9

      Communion is funny, sad, complicated, and quietly beautiful.

      Daniel MacIvor’s script is a spare, emotionally rich, and mordantly funny exploration of belief and connection. Leda, a recovering alcoholic who’s been sober for two years, needs to tell her estranged daughter, Annie, that she’s dying of cancer. Annie, whose childhood was defined by Leda’s addiction, is now a militant born-again Christian; she’s served jail time for trying to burn down an abortion clinic. The third character, Carolyn, is Leda’s therapist, a willfully detached sounding board for Leda, and later for Annie.

      MacIvor’s gifts for minimalist dialogue and deadpan humour are well displayed in Communion. In the opening scene, Leda sits silently, jiggling her leg and frenetically drumming on the arms of her chair while Carolyn observes passively for an impossibly long time before calmly observing, “You appear agitated.” Leda is frustrated by Carolyn’s implacable exterior—“Why don’t I just talk into a tape recorder and play it back?” she fumes—but she’s equally frustrated by her own inability to know or articulate her feelings. And she’s terrified of having to go and see Annie. When she eventually makes the trip to break the news of her diagnosis, Annie drops a couple of bombshells of her own.

      It’s a credit to MacIvor’s taut writing, Roy Surette’s graceful direction, and stellar work from all three cast members that Communion never veers into melodrama. Diane Brown’s Leda is skinless, bubbling with incoherent, self-conscious rage in the first scene and calmly resigned when she finally talks to Annie. Marcie Nestman’s portrayal of Annie is wonderfully complex: the grimly self-righteous set of her jaw gives way to a mischievous grin when she reminds her mother that it was she, not her boyfriend, who was the drug dealer in high school. And Kerry Sandomirsky elegantly reveals the frayed edges of Carolyn’s professional calm as she acknowledges her own uncertainties.

      John Webber lights his handsome, minimalist set beautifully, underscoring one of the play’s central motifs, and Peggy Lee’s gorgeous, contemplative cello score covers the scene changes.

      It’s a treat to see Surette’s work on a Vancouver stage again (the former West Coast director is now based at Montreal’s Centaur Theatre), and the intimate Pacific Theatre is a perfect venue for this intimate and moving play. See it with someone you love.