By Jay Menard
There is a really solid play in the midst of The Second Self. Unfortunately this period piece is overwhelmed by hyperbolic performances and a heaping helping of melodrama.
The play, examining the lives of a combined family of friends, set in 1944 amidst the backdrop of World War II, is designed to explore how people embrace the next stage of their lives after their regular plans are wrested — often violently — away from them.
But the plot drivers pop up like a theatrical version of whack-a-mole. Like the carnival game, they’re driven home with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. And, in the end, everything’s wrapped up with all-too perfect (and all-too-unbelievable) bows.
A husband is killed in combat? No problem — he’s replaced before the tears after notification have dried. And there are other, painfully staged, resolutions by the play’s end.
Performance-wise, there’s very little middle ground. The characters devolve quickly into caricature; the actors find themselves on opposite sides of the quality spectrum — some are very good, others aren’t. And there’s little in-between. Even the volume of performance has no subtlety — it jumps from inaudible to hyperbolic (and generally stays there).
The set is intriguing, using period-appropriate props. And the use of music from the area, both as ambiance and as a plot device, is effective and welcome.
But in the end, the second self needs to give itself a second look. It’s a play about growing up that desperately needs to mature.
This opening weekend review has been posted on behalf of Theatre in London.ca (http://theatreinlondon.ca/).