Harper Regan

Molly Parker returns to the stage in Simon Stephens' unsettling drama

Presented by Canadian Stage
Written by Simon Stephens
Directed by Matthew Jocelyn

Molly Parker and Philip Riccio in the Canadian Stage production of Harper Regan. Photo by David Hou.

The truth unravels slowly in Simon Stephens' Harper Regan, a suspenseful drama about one woman's mid-life crisis that premiered at the National Theatre in London in 2008. Now playing as part of Canadian Stage's current season, Matthew Jocelyn's new production stars Canadian actress Molly Parker (Deadwood, House of Cards) in her first theatre role after a 18-year hiatus from the stage.

Trapped in an unfulfilling job and a lonely marriage, Harper Regan (Parker) embarks on a journey, both geographical and psychological, in an attempt to reconcile the loss of her dying father. An act of rebellion on all fronts, Harper disobeys her bombasic boss, Elwood Barnes (Hardee T. Lineham), who will not allow her to leave, and abandons her angry, studious daughter, Sarah (Vivien Endicott-Douglas), and unemployed husband, Seth (Alex Poch-Goldin), fleeing the suburbs of London for her hometown north of Manchester.

Along the way, Harper has a number of encounters that force her to see her situation more clearly: first she meets a shy young student named Tobias Rich (Izaak Smith) to whom she is strangely attracted; next a naive, bubbly nurse (also played by Endicott-Douglas) informs her that she she has just missed her father's last moments alive; then she has a liberating confrontation with a coke-addled journalist (Philip Riccio) in a pub; and later a sexual liaison in a hotel room with a stranger after answering his personal ad. Each of these encounters aids in the undoing of the fragile woman we have seen so far, revealing a darker, secret side to Harper's life.

Harper's voyage finally leads her to the home of her estranged mother, Alison (Lynne Griffin), where she comes face to face with the uncomfortable reality she has been trying to escape. Upon seeing the light, Harper returns to her family with renewed determination, but whether or not she can go on as she once did remains a mystery at the play's conclusion.

Jocelyn's production is stripped down and intimate. Several chairs are removed from the front of the theatre and the stage is extended, bringing the audience closer to the performers, who remain seated upstage watching between scenes. The cast refrains from speaking in English accents throughout, which works except when the language and setting clearly call for local dialects. Jocelyn gets strong performances out of the ensemble, although the inconsitency of tone, which veers from pensive to oddly comical, takes away from the believability of the story in parts.

Ultimately Parker carries the show with a beautifully vulnerable performance as Harper. Her chemistry with Poch-Godin as both Seth and James Fortune (the stranger in the hotel room) is raw and fascinating to watch. Endicott-Douglas and Smith, the youngest cast members, are also immensely watchable throughout.

Inspired by Greek tragedy, Stephens' challenging and thoughful script is rich with human insight and poetic observations—it's modern take on the mid-life crisis is unlike anything you've seen before. Definitely worth a journey to the theatre.

Harper Regan runs until March 22 at the Bluma Appel Theatre (St. Lawrence Centre for the Performing Arts). Visit canadianstage.com for more information and to buy tickets.

Show Dates: 
Sun, 2015-03-01 - Sun, 2015-03-22
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