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Theatre & Performance Review: The Full Light of Day is a cutting-edge, overwhelming tragedy

World premiere of The Full Light of Day at the Vancouver Playhouse. Dean Paul Gibson and the ensemble of The Full Light of Day, Jan. 7, 2019.

Donald Lee

  • Title: The Full Light of Day
  • Written by: Daniel Brooks
  • Directed by: Kim Collier
  • Starring: Jim Mezon, Gabrielle Rose, Jillian Fargey, Dean Paul Gibson, Jenny Young, Jonathon Young
  • Set Designer: Julie Fox
  • Director of Photography/Projection Designer: Brian Johnson
  • Lighting Designer: Michael Walton
  • Company: Electric Company Theatre (in association with the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity)
  • Venue: At the Vancouver Playhouse 
  • Year: Runs Jan. 7-12.
  • Venue: Bluma Appel Theatre in Toronto for Luminato 
  • Year: Runs June 7-13.

rating

Daniel Brooks’s The Full Light of Day is a dark tale. Among the most anticipated works of Canadian theatre in 2019, the play had its world premiere at the Vancouver Playhouse on Wednesday. Like many of its characters, it is wildly ambitious.

A modern tragedy with classic references (Shakespeare, the Bible) and a determination to dazzle, this Electric Company Theatre production examines the lives of a single family using innovative, cutting-edge digital technology – as well as good old-fashioned superb theatre acting.

Brooks, a Siminovitch Prize-winning playwright, began the project wanting to write a screenplay; Siminovitch Prize-winning director Kim Collier read the first rough draft. Collier is one of the founders of the Electric Company, which has earned its excellent reputation by pushing the technological envelope in live theatre with productions such as No Exit and Tear the Curtain. She proposed doing Brooks’s story as a film-stage hybrid.

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The result is a thoughtful, entertaining ride, brought to the audience through live onstage performances, as well as 14 live-streaming cameras, prerecorded images and video projected onto the complex, often in-motion set. The use of technology generally enhances the story – but it also at times overwhelms it. This may have more to do with the story than the tech.

Mary (Gabrielle Rose) and Harold (Jim Mezon) are wealthy Torontonians who also spend time at a lovely and tranquil country home, where the play opens. They have three grown children. Harold has made a fortune in real-estate development and his eldest son, David (Dean Paul Gibson), is following in dad’s well-heeled footsteps. Jane (Jenny Young) buries herself in her own work selling real estate following her husband’s suicide. Joey (Jonathon Young) seems lost and has been dumped by his girlfriend. “I seem to be making consistently bad choices,” he says. He hides behind his smartphone, which he frequently uses to record the proceedings. David’s wife Sherry (Jillian Fargey) keeps the home fires burning, tending to their two children, a spoiled tween and her little brother.

This family, with its ambitions, grievances, loves and losses, is meant to be a stand-in for society at large.

Here’s the problem: They’re not. This very rich family, which has populated Toronto with ugly buildings, is probably not like most of the families you know. Another thing they’re not is likeable. And if we don’t care about these characters, how can we be invested in the story they’re constructing?

Mary is the exception, a Madonna figure who can do no wrong. But wait, has she? Does complicity count? It’s a question many of us are asking during these dark political times, and one of the things that makes the play feel urgent and contemporary.

Invested or not, our interest is enhanced by the level of intimacy produced by the live-streaming cameras. In scenes where the characters are lying in bed, we can see their bodies from our seats, but with the live camera projection, we also have access to their faces, close up.

In one of the production’s early set pieces – a loud, garish dinner party that David hosts at a restaurant – Joey films the proceedings with his smartphone, giving the audience various perspectives on the profane gluttony. It is wonderful.

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One of the production’s first uses of the technology, an image of Harold swimming, took my breath away. It also sets up the central metaphor of the story: man’s impact on the pristine environment. A dirty man at that.

Can we justify our real estate greed by reminding ourselves that all of this land we’re dying to buy or falling out with our family over is stolen anyway? (Harold’s such suggestion to Mary as they drive back to the city feels particularly timely with the current protests around the LNG pipeline in northern British Columbia.)

Then there is the question of resolution. If, as in this play, one’s moral light bulb might not switch on until near the end of their days, how late is too late to recognize their wrongs? And how can one go about correcting them?

The answer that Brooks lands on left me deeply unsatisfied. A decision made toward the end of the story did not ring at all true for me.

That said, the ending was deeply moving. There is no dearth of death scenes in the theatre, but The Full Light of Day had one of the most realistic, harrowing scenes I have ever witnessed.

And, the performances were magnificent. It makes no sense to single anyone out, because the actors in the main roles were all extraordinary.

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The best characters in this story are women. The men commit acts of greed and violence, drink too much, disappear in various ways. The women are left holding it together. Are they complicit in their willful blindness, in their enjoyment of the finer things? Sure. Can they learn and grow, rise above it, clean up the legacy? The story suggests that yes, they can. And do.

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