Written by Hannah Moscovitch. Directed by Micheline Chevrier.
Produced by Imago Theatre at Centaur Theatre, Oct. 25 to Nov. 4, 2018
Anybody who caught the production of Hannah Moscovitch’s Little One at Centaur’s Wildside a couple of years ago will be familiar with the Toronto-based playwright’s adeptness at showing the painful fractures in close, claustrophobic relationships. There, the relationship was between a guilt-ridden brother and his scarily sociopathic adopted sister. In Other People’s Children, a modern power couple — globetrotting businessman Ben and corporate lawyer Ilana – are stuck in a corrosive marriage, partly because of the emotional problems surrounding the arrival of their first baby, partly because a massage in Hanoi resulted in a happy ending for Ben, if not for his home situation.
Ben and Ilana’s solution for at least one of these crises is to bring in a live-in nanny, recent Sri Lankan immigrant Sati, and the stage is set for a brisk three-hander rife with bubbling tensions to do with invading personal spaces and crossing cultural and moral boundaries.
Moscovitch (whose musical Old Stock: a Refugee’s Story comes to the Segal this December) is particularly skilled at creating dialogue which zig-zags between evasion and confrontation, and occasionally switches back to a forgotten thought like a dog going back for a dropped morsel – it might be described as Mamet-ian, though without the brash macho swagger.
It’s a style that’s particularly apposite to the story Moscovitch is telling in that it involves a privileged couple torn between awareness of what’s appropriate in their dealings with a vulnerable, perhaps traumatized employee, and their own selfish impulses.
The play, here given a sleek, visually impressive production by Imago Theatre, revolves around that classic set-up of a mysterious outsider entering into domestic territory, though in this case most of the menace comes from the home team, as Ben and Ilana walk thoughtlessly into Sati’s bedroom, or unwittingly (maybe knowingly?) make too-personal conversational gaffes. Moscovitch skillfully turns the screws, escalating what begins as a comedy-of-embarrassment into something more disturbing.
Micheline Chevrier’s direction exerts a grip from the off, and the trio of actors play off one another with impressively layered performances: Brett Donahue’ Ben dripping with insincere bonhomie and blokeish charm, Kathleen Stavert’s Ilana simmering with self-recrimination over what she sees as insufficient maternal feelings, and Asha Vijayasingham’s eager-to-please Sati suppressing the pain of being ripped away from her own children by directing her affections in unexpected directions.
Structurally, it’s a bit of an old-fashioned play which now and then strays into the territory of soap opera-ish shock revelations. But the theme of First World privilege preying on the desperation of the bulk of humanity is all-too contemporary, and Moscovitch, fast becoming one of Canada’s foremost playwrights, gives it a gripping, often sardonically funny spin.