Like Lady Tessie Tura, I like a gimmick, if it’s a good one. And so, when film stars take turns on stage, I have learned to hold my judgement until I see that person in that part (ever since being pleasantly startled by Laurence Fishburne as Henry in The Lion In Winter). Kathleen Turner is indeed a good one in Mirvish’s High, and she is well-used, if not quite as ably supported as I would prefer.
Turner, as a nun who is also a recovering alcoholic who is also an addiction counselor, is the model of the sort of counselors that work for some of the more recalcitrant among us. She does not share and care and feel; she curses, she delivers ultimatums, she’s sarcastic and generous and tender and holds him to account ruthlessly. Turner’s so perfect here, not remotely above a little camp, and the drag-stage sensibility she brings to shutting down Cody’s more annoying behaviors is note-perfect. Cody, played by Evan Jonigkeit, is not exactly on board with the rehab plan.
There are plot twists, and they are revealed slowly, and so I’ll simply wave my hands mysteriously and say “more is revealed” about why Cody is at this particular facility being rehabilitated by this particular nun. Jonigkeit gives us a slightly caricatured Drug Addict™, but that’s most of all he’s given to do – reveal the horrifying details of his young life, grapple naked onstage with Kathleen Turner (only he is naked, more’s the pity), and be recalcitrant about everything. He brings a little-boy vulnerability to his angriest scenes that I found quite touching, though; you see perfectly well how much he wants to be stopped as he rages, which I love the most about him. The teeth-grinding and hit-coughing add the drug verisimilitude, but those are facts. The way he both has tantrums and constantly checks her with his eyes to see if she’s mad at him yet is the depthless truth.
Tim Altmeyer,as the third leg of this little tripod, seems just too insubstantial to hold the stage with Turner’s grand, gravelly gravitas and Jongkeit’s emotional explosions. I fear he could only have managed by being quieter, slower, and more measured than everyone, but instead he tries to use the lines playwright Lombardo gave him to snipe back at Turner. It doesn’t really work. He is, at best, sort of fine – I kept wanting him to let a little room into the dialogue, but no dice. Oh, well.
I know I should talk about the set, which was minimalist and just fine with an infinite, night-sky cyclorama that worked without being too showy (though it did add to the God-is-a-drag-queen-and-she-loves-you-but-you-better-come-correct realness of it all) and the sound, also fine, just fine. But I want to keep talking about Turner – how present she was, how even the slight mumbliness of her recent years seems to serve her now, like a gouache she uses to obscure the less important bits and make you focus on what matters. She crams her hands in the pockets of her cardigan, she takes her glasses on and off, she picks up her pad to make a point and puts it down to make a different kind of point – it’s stylized, yes, but her actions never look false. I loved watching.
– High plays at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King Street West Toronto, ON until May 13th
– Performances are nightly at 8pm except a Sunday evening performance at 7pm, and 2pm matinees both Saturday and Sunday
– Ticket prices range from $39 to $107, and can be had at mirvish.com or by calling the theatre box office at 16 872-1212