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Andrea Risk & Debra Hale.  Photo: Pete Paterson.
Andrea Risk & Debra Hale. Photo: Pete Paterson.

Theatre Review: "Freedom 85" at 1000 Islands Playhouse

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Freedom 85 is closing out the season at the 1000 Islands Playhouse in Gananoque, running through November 6. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has this review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

FREEDOM 85, a two-woman multi-character comedy by, and also featuring Debra Hale, is the final offering of the season in the Springer Theatre at the 1000 Islands Playhouse.  The two major characters, 85 year-old Sybil and 40-something Kate, explore their relationship and the need to feel alive and needed at any and all ages.  The time swings from the present to 1940s wartime Briton and back.  In the process we meet characters of both eras and sexes, all played by just two actresses.

Designer Steve Lucas is pretty much responsible for the entire technical production.  His deceptively simple set consists of broad platform-like steps leading up to a beige wall with a center doorway and what appear at first glance to be a number of empty frames.  These are used throughout for projections and photographs.  The Happy Peas Jamaican restaurant is indicated stage right and Sybil’s living room stage left.  With his excellent lighting and projections Mr. Lucas helps the audience follow the many changes in time and place.

By the way, I’ve been told that I should explain that when I use the term “stage right,” I mean the actor’s right as he faces the audience.

Both actresses must deal with instant, and I do mean instant, character changes using only body language, vocal changes and a few very tiny costume changes.  Andrea Risk plays the 85 year-old Sybil, her son and her younger self, among others.  Her only costume assistance is the tattoo revealed on her arm when she plays a biker.  Her physical and vocal characterizations are good, but seem to be pretty much on the surface with little depth – even that of Sybil.

Playwright Debra Hale does a nice job with Kate, creating a solid and believable character.  She’s also convincing as the Jamaican restaurant owner and squinty old Fred.  Both actresses do a remarkable job in the Act II lunch scene, creating a conversation among four people with lightning character changes, often during rapid-fire dialogue.

Director Kathryn Mackay has done a nice job of staging this very tricky play.  Despite the flashbacks and character switches, she’s kept it very clear when is when and who is who.  I’d have liked a bit more depth of character, though.

Playwright Hale has written an entertaining play, giving the older characters just enough repetition and the younger ones just enough impatience with it.  I particularly liked the flashbacks, and the surprise coincidence in Act II really works.   All in all, it’s an enjoyable finish for the season.

On a scale of one to five the 1000 Islands Playhouse production of FREEDOM 85 gets four fish.  For North Country Public Radio I’m Connie Meng.


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