Theatre review: Scar Tissue lacks an emotional connection beyond a single performance

When screenwriter Dennis Foon first adapted Michael Ignatieff’s (yes, that Michael Ignatieff) novel Scar Tissue for television in 2002 he felt there was something missing, something only a stage version could more effectively explore in this family’s struggle as Alzheimer’s touches their lives.  But despite a boost from a wonderful central performance from Gabrielle Rose, given the subject matter, it lacked any real emotional connection.

Scar Tissue follows the descent of Mary (Rose) as she battles with Alzheimer’s disease and the reaction to that descent by her family.  Knowing that the possibility exists that he will suffer the same fate (his grandmother was similarly afflicted), son David becomes obsessed with his mother’s disease, willing to suspend his own life in an effort to help her and perhaps understand how he might stave off the possibility of succumbing to the disease himself.

While a mostly linear story that captures the pain of Alzheimer’s from diagnosis to inevitable death, Foon on occasion pushes the story into the family’s past, but these moments become little more than confusing, as they seldom fed the central plot.  Through these flashbacks, Foon prefers to highlight some of the happier family times or, in the case of the seemingly distant father, we are given a somewhat clichéd good son/bad son sub-plot.   Foon also manages to gloss over the sacrifice David makes as he pulls away from his wife and son to feed his obsession with his mother’s disease and when his wife finally has had enough and orders him out, the lack of tension between the two to that point makes it wholly unbelievable.

Despite these problems, Gabrielle Rose still manages a bravura performance as Mary.  As she begins her spiral into the ravages of Alzheimer’s, Rose allows a river of terror to run just below the surface of her performance that was at times heart-wrenching.  As the disease progresses, her controlled performance helps ensure the movie-of-the-week vibe is minimized.

Gabrielle Rose in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Scar Tissue. Photo by David Cooper.
Gabrielle Rose in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Scar Tissue. Photo by David Cooper.

Craig Erickson gives an unforced performance in the stronger first half but quickly becomes overwrought in act two.  As the forgotten wife Megan Leitch is never given a chance to make her decision to throw her husband out believable and Tom McBeath, arguably one of our city’s finest actors is relegated to the role of distant father and enigmatic husband.  Haig Sutherland as the second son, quite conveniently a doctor, works hard but, like the rest of the family quartet that surrounds the two central characters, he is never really given more to do than be the voice of inevitability and science.

Set designer Yvan Morissette provides a few set pieces that at times are a little fussy as tables and couches are transformed into the various locales that seemed to include a lot of beds; oddly it had me thinking back to his work on Snowman last year.  Morissette is much more successful with his abstract backdrops which become the perfect canvas for David Cooper’s projections.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for a play that dipped a toe into what felt like MOTW territory is the lack of emotional connection I felt by the end of the show.  And while a MOTW might delight in its manipulation of our emotions, I was at least hoping for a bigger tug than from a single performance.

3 Out of 5 Stars Scar Tissue

By Dennis Foon.  Based on the novel by Michael Ignatieff.  An Arts Club Theatre Company production.  On stage at the Arts Club Revue Stage through April 28, 2012.  Visit http://ww.artsclub.com for tickets and information.

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