By David Kenney
In one scene from Judith Thompson’s Perfect Pie old Patsy (Valerie Planche) announces, "I say, tear the history down and give it a fresh coat of paint."
Easier said than done.
The flashback-ridden play, which runs until April 14 with Alberta Theatre Projects, is a reminder of just how difficult it is to forget. And with fabulous and emotionally-
jarring performances by every character, the storyline sticks to the audience like gum to a table.
Set in Mamora, Ontario, Perfect Pie begins in the present day with old Patsy kneading dough and reminiscing about her childhood friend, Marie. While Patsy leads an idyllic life on the farm with a loving husband and family, she always wonders "what if?" Miles away, the former Marie–now Francesca–wonders the same, but is unwilling to take action.
The two reunite over a cassette letter Patsy sends to the theatre star Francesca. Needless to say, the homecoming is awkward. The corresponding flashback sequences, however, are not.
A four-person, two-character play has massive potential for choppiness and indiscernability. Somehow, in spite of the extensive shifts in time period and mood, Perfect Pie flows freely from scene to scene. Even when characters from both time periods are engaged in different activities, the play is not distracting.
The execution of scenes is only paralleled in the dialogue delivery. Each character swings between lows and highs of their commentary without under or overstating the situation. Especially inspiring is how Jennifer Morehouse’s depiction of Marie ranges from a shy and quiet young girl to a frustrated teenager. Her rise in volume and ambition makes every word count.
Besting Morehouse is Ester Purvis-Smith’s portrayal of young Patsy. As a wide-eyed, talkative, chirpy youngster, Smith steals the show. Her progression from Shirley Temple peaches-and-cream innocence to rough-and-tumble teen is an arc that teases ones’ emotions.
Suspense is created and maintained in Perfect Pie with subtle hints suggesting various possibilities without closing the gap until late in the play. As for the characters, Thompson provides enough information to keep you longing for more way past the end.
In essence, Thompson has created a mostly perfect play.
The play starts in a dimly-lit kitchen, inviting conversation and a long-overdue visit. At the end, train tracks lead the way home. But as Perfect Pie shows, while no one every really goes home, the history will always there, like fresh, new paint.