Mrs. Dexter and her Daily by Joanna McClelland Glass

Director Marti Maraden  Set Design Pam Johnson Costume Design Phillip Clarkson Lighting Design Marsha Sibthorpe Stage Manager Laurie Champagne

Dates and Venue 7 January 2010 - 7 February 2010 | The Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage 

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

Mrs. Dexter and her Daily is a double portrait of two women of completely different backgrounds, experience and outlook who are facing the same issue. At 65, the even tenor of their ways has been irreparably altered and not for the good. How will they cope?

Mrs. Edith Dexter  is selling her large and expensive house, beautifully intimated by Pam Johnson’s Toronto Life kitchen. Her husband has left her for her best friend and neighbour, and she will move to a small apartment. Now out of a job, her daily, Peggy Randall faces spending her last years in the despised Metro Toronto Housing Corporation project or throwing her lot in with Herbie, the “father of her four children,” so as to afford a small apartment.

Joanna McClelland Glass, one of our finest playwrights, is writing at the height of her powers. In a bold move, she presents each woman in monologue. Beyond a few off-stage remarks from Mrs. D. (Fiona Reid), relaxing in the garden and still in her nightie, Nicola Cavendish as Peggy Ramsay, the 'daily' has Act I to herself. While Peggy Randall bustles about the stage back and forth from chore to chore she chats, darting from subject to subject and back again,  the morning sunshine that gives her pleasure, carpet-cleaners who haven't cleaned properly, the faithless neighbour across the street, the ironing to be done, her short-lived marriage at 15, Herbie, the ' father of her four children', Mrs. D.  

Gradually two pictures are laid down, one fully drawn of a desperately hard life lived with warmth, energy, humour and sheer doggedness, the other a sketch of Mrs. D.

Act II belongs to Mrs. Dexter and Fiona Reid. Where Peggy Randall was quick, down-to-earth and undaunted by life, Edith Dexter. is despairing. Her mood is elegaiac, mourning for lost friendship as much as for her lost husband and happy way of life. She muses, quotes poetry, relates stories with subtle humour. She drinks. She talks about Peggy and as we learn the full iniquity of Herbie we come to understand how aghast she is at Peggy’s plans. Her own decision to sell the house in order to keep the summer cottage for the grandchildren seems to her altogether more sensible. Fiona Reid delicately draws a picture of a privileged woman who has lived with elegance, kindness and grace.

Almost imperceptibly Mrs. Dexter moves out of her torpor and takes some action. She gives Peggy the character reference needed for the apartment with Herbie. And then, by phone, dresses down both an old school-mate and her condescending son. These are the most dramatic moments of the evening. As character studies the monologues are intricate and delicate creations. But the fact that each character gives us a true portrait of the other woman and that there is no interaction between them in person creates an absence of tension in the play which is ultimately unsatisfying.

Marti Maraden’s direction keeps the play moving, without being too busy. Phililip Clarkson’s designs show each woman’s essence to perfection. Unfortunately first night gremlins took over the props, but these difficulties were soon overcome. More distracting was Marsha Sibthorpe's lighting, which was unchanging despite much mention of the passage of time in each act.

Joanna McClelland Glass writes with delicate subtley and Nicola Cavendish and Fiona Reid are skilled actors of the first degree.  It was disappointing that the parts were greater than the whole play.  

© 2010 Elizabeth Paterson