Review: Mrs Dexter & Her Daily – basking in the afterglow

I must admit that for one brief moment at the end of Mrs Dexter & Her Daily, currently playing at the Arts Club Stanley Theatre, I felt a tiny bit cheated.  After all, how could a piece of theatre with the talents of Nicola Cavendish and Fiona Reid not actually have these two women on the stage at the same time?  The feeling was fleeting though as I basked in the afterglow of the two incredible, if separated, performances in playwright Joanna McClelland Glass’ rich character study about class.

Peggy (Cavendish) is Mrs Edith Dexter’s (Reid) “daily” – the cleaning lady who has been in the employ of the Dexter’s for the past ten years.  Act one is Cavendish’s turn at the wheel, busy going about her duties in the massive home’s kitchen.  Cavendish gets to flex all of her ample acting muscles here easily moving between the humour, drama and just a tiny bit of delightful physical comedy.  Although we’re never quite sure why Peg is talking to us, in the end it doesn’t really matter as Cavendish so immerses herself into this woman that even when she talks of the mundane we remain spellbound.

Act two is Reid’s turn and from the moment she walks on looking for that first drink of the day, now that Peggy has been dismissed, we are quickly immersed into Edith’s world, one of loneliness and isolation.  As Edith fleshes out some of what we have learned from Peg in act one, we see the depths of her pain, betrayed by her husband and best friend of so many years.  Preparing the family home for sale, Edith’s melancholy builds to a feverish pace ultimately building to a wonderfully shocking telephone conversation with her son that leaves no doubt, despite her world turning upside down, she will survive.

Mrs Dexter and Her Daily
Nicola Cavenish and Fiona Reid in Mrs Dexter & Her Daily.  Photos by David Cooper.

Director Marti Maraden has done a great job here, first for casting these two incredible actors and then for allowing Cavendish and Reid to play to their many strengths.

Pam Johnson’s realistic set is spot-on and Marsha Sibthorpe’s lighting was near perfect with an opening lighting sequence that was so warm and inviting that I strained to look for the opening at the back of the Stanley stage that allowed the sun to shine through.

Playwright Glass has turned traditional theatre slightly on its edge here by giving us a two-woman show where the two women are never actually on stage at the same time.  But given the richness of her writing and the mesmerizing performances of Cavendish and Reid, I will bask in the afterglow of this wonderful play for some time yet.

4 out of 5 StarsMrs Dexter and Her Daily
Arts Club Stanley Theatre, 2750 Granville Island
7 January – 7 February 2010

Nicola Cavendish and Fiona Reid, two of Canada’s most acclaimed actresses, star in this finely crafted portrait of Mrs. D and Peggy, whose longstanding employer–servant relationship may be coming to an end. Tickets are $25, $40, and $59, inclusive of all taxes and fees. Call the Arts Club Box Office at 604.687.1644 or visit http://www.artsclub.com.

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