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Actress and playwright Linda Griffiths during rehearsals with co-star Layne Colman on stage of the play she wrote and is staring in, Heaven Above, Heaven Below at the Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto on November 14, 2013.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

3 out of 4 stars

Title
Heaven Above, Heaven Below
Written by
Linda Griffiths
Directed by
Karen Hines
Actors
Layne Coleman and Linda Griffiths
Company
Theatre Passe Muraille
City
Toronto

On Theatre Passe Muraille's main stage, a sequel to a 20-year-old play by a major Canadian playwright about a young couple considering having an abortion has just closed. And now, in the TPM backspace, a sequel to a 20-year-old play by a major Canadian playwright about a young couple considering having an abortion has just opened.

Linda Griffiths'a Heaven Above, Heaven Below succeeds where George F. Walker's Moss Park failed, however, because it makes a fetus more than an intrauterine MacGuffin to keep the plot moving.

Like its predecessor The Darling Family (subtitled A Duet for Three), Heaven Above, Heaven Below deeply explores the complex and conflicted feelings that can surround abortion, even among those who are reflexively pro-choice – this time, the variety that linger even (or especially) a generation later.

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She and He run into each other at a wedding in Hamilton, two decades after their short affair ended along with a terminated pregnancy. As She, who is childless and unmarried, says to He, who now has a five-year-old son with his younger wife, back at her hotel room afterward, "I don't think I made a mistake, and I don't forgive you."

The Darling Family (1991), which was also a two-hander and premiered in the Theatre Passe Muraille backspace too, roamed from apartments to parks to abortion clinics and saw Griffiths play around with form, allowing her characters to channel past lives at length and express their thoughts out loud in between dialogue. At one point, seeking advice on whether they should have the baby or not, She and He turn to I Ching and get the answer: "Heaven above; heaven below."

In the new play named after that indecisive advice from the cosmos, She and He inhabit a more bourgeois play structure – a single realistic setting with no jumps in space or time. Similarly, the characters – once into punk music, native spirituality and a Trudeau-pian brand of Canadian nationalism – are now middle-class and middle-aged and chatter about book deals, wine and the difficulties of nailing down the right shade of off-white for a kitchen renovation. (Their funny, but forlorn conversations recall yet another 20-year-on Canadian sequel, Denys Arcand's Oscar-winning film, The Barbarian Invasions.)

She and He have returned to her Hamilton hotel, ostensibly to catch up; they're already drunk, but there's a mini-bar to raid and pot to smoke and cocaine to snort before the two get to the crux of the matter. He wants to know if he has ruined her life; She wants him to know that her life isn't ruined. And there's more.

In director Karen Hines's tiny but taut production, Linda Griffiths plays She – and she doesn't quite fully inhabit the character. There's something plastic about the performance, but, in all honestly, the opening night audience, myself included, was just grateful to see her on stage. The play was originally scheduled to open last season, but was postponed when Griffiths discovered she had breast cancer and underwent treatment.

Coleman, meanwhile, pulls off a masterfully mischievous performance that is ultimately also very moving. About three quarters of the way through, She and He get lost in their argument and the play lost me for a bit, too; but, at the end, the two leave their battle behind and Coleman switches from his Canadian dry delivery to intone a seemingly non-sequitur monologue about a Japanese hotel that is unexpectedly gorgeous. It's a bravura ending to a play that may be less daring than its prequel, but is a satisfying follow-up for fans of the first.

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