Lucia Frangione in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Paradise Garden. Photo by Ross Den Otter.
Kevin MacDonald and Lucia Frangione in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Paradise Garden. Photo by Ross Den Otter.


Paradise Garden by Lucia Frangione

Dates and Venue 11 Mar - 11 Apr 2010 | Stanley Theatre, Vancouver

Reviewer Nila Gopaul

Three women sat down to dinner on Wednesday night and by induction created a premise for "Paradise Garden". All three women had only seen the ad of Layla and Day. Abound with rose pedals, two half naked bodies lie next to each other smiling and staring into the sky. The photo captures the women's attention. Could Lucia Frangione's story be about forbidden love? The Garden of Eden? Locus Amoenus? or Could it be a tale of Mrs. Robinson? Afterall, Bancroft was a mere 36 years old at the time of the filming of The Graduate. Hoffman was only six years her junior.

At the heart of Paradise Garden's premise is harmony, healing and love –though the above surmises ring true. Paradise Garden challenges us to think about the predominance of individual modern human thinking and behaviour and the human spirit. The play is about bringing together communities and religions and intimate connections. The characters enter the stage. They breathe the elements – earth, wind, fire and water; they chorus – north, west, south, east; in unison –spring, summer, fall, winter. It is a beautiful beginning. It would seem that no place in the world could communities of Christians and Muslims really peacefully co-exist, except of course where this play is set.

Set on a remote island on the West Coast of British Columbia, Dave (Kevin MacDonald) lives in Paradise. Layla (Lucia Frangione), 33, (and just six years older) shares this garden with her neighbour, Dave, who suffers from existential angst. Dave lives with his mother Jean (Gina Chiarelli). Dave has never ventured off the island to pursue life in the big city. He is not a mama's boy, but we can't help but think it strange when a grown man still lives at home, especially with just his mother. Jean is a hippy as his boisterous pot-trafficking dad Keith (Michael Kopsa).

Layla is not the average girl next door. She is an intellectual and driven. In a Muslim, family for a daughter at 33 to be unmarried is quite unimaginable and embarrassing. Layla lives on the other side of the hedge with her family. Layla's mother Ergul (Marie Stillin) is dying of cancer. The father Mustafa (Richard Newman) tries hard to be a good husband and Muslim. It looks as if Layla will be looking after Mustafa when Ergul goes. And she does. Father and daughter travel the globe together. But, Mustafa does release his daughter. We're not quite sure what internal factors are at play. What part of his consciousness gets to him first: the religious or the intellectual side? What part helps father and daughter constitute a fulfilling life?

The entire cast of Paradise Garden is excellent. For me, the intense scenes between Layla and her father and mother, and Dave, were probably the most moving parts of the play. They allowed us understand the picture of what it means to put oneself at the disposal of others. Frangione does a marvelous job of leaving us with the "presence" of other people (and of God) rather than merely "information" about them.

© 2009 Nila Gopaul