The Blood Harmonic,
Emerging Canadian playwright Calla Wright’s exploration of sibling rivalry
By Byron Toben
“One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, now go cats, go” as sung by blue suede shoed Elvis occurred to me in viewing the three sisters portrayed in the impressive Blood Harmonic in its recent all too short (5 performances) run.
Young author Calla Wright, just about to graduate Concordia, describes this play as being loosely inspired by King Lear. “How sharper than a serpents tooth is it to have a thankless child” and all that.
Plays about female siblings seem, as here, to run in threes and owe much to Chekov rather than the Bard. Since Olga, Masha and Irina in his Three Sisters, you have such as Sara, Gorgeous and Pfeni in Wendy Wasserstein’s The Sisters Rosenzweig, and, I forget the names, the ladies in Beth Henley’s Crimes of The Heart and the trio in Tracy Letts’s August: Osage County.
A commonality, of course, is that all three have strikingly different personalities. Here Gail, a writer (Anne-Marie Saher) is dedicated to her craft, Rae (Jen Viens) is a practical “take charge” housewife and Cora (Victoria Smith), a non profit arts group administrator. They are all young actresses who display subtleties beyond their years.
The whole is ably directed by Amanda Goldberg, back in town from theatrical studies in England.
A real treat in the play is the mother Roxanne, played by none other than Jude Beny, the highly rated Dawson theatre program teacher and director, who has a fistful of acting plaudits on stage and film.
Roxanne is the successful author of a series called Blood Harmonic whose two daughters, Gail and Rae are estranged while the third, Cora, looks in on her, as does her accountant, Fred (Paul Zinno). The hedonistic character that anchors the profitable series is apparently based on her own wild and eccentric life. She is pledged to write two more in the series when she is found dead. Was it suicide or perhaps a murder?
Each of the siblings vies for the rewards of writing the unfinished potboilers. Gail is the most experienced writer, but has never deigned to read Mom’s books. Rae has no writing experience, but has read all of them. Cora feels that she knows Mom the best and can best capture the spirit.
Young author Calla Wright, just about to graduate Concordia, describes this play as being loosely inspired by King Lear.
Speaking of the spirit, Mom’s ghostly apparition appears to them and, although more talkative than Hamlet’s dad, does not specifically endorse who should take up the task. Oh, yeah, Fred throws his candidacy into the mix. Well, perhaps not as boring as accounting, but is he really only trying to take the strain out of the sisters lives at a time of grief?
There is some violence, but nothing so gross as Lear’s daughter Regan who relishes having eyes plucked out, “Out vile Jelly”. Despite the darkness of the subject, Blood Harmonic is a comedy with a number of humourous bits and word play. I hope it gets a chance to be remounted. It is a revelation from the producing feminist theatre company We Are One, founded just two years ago.
Not exactly relevant, but I can’t resist also recalling the three popular Andrews Sisters, Laverne, Maxine and Patty, singing Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.
Blood Harmonic closed at the MainLine on May 1.
Images: Matthieu Marin
Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club