The program for YOU GOT OLDER speaks of love and grief but, for me, the richest part of the work is about courage. When someone, and their family, suddenly joins ‘cancer club’ nothing stays as it was. It’s the courage not to be bowed by the experience, physical, emotional and spiritual. The courage to let some things slide and let some get away and take some on full tilt. It might not feel like bravery at the time but for so many us, it is being able to continue a tradition with undiminished joy, not broken down by the overwhelming grief of loss. That’s where we do honour, when we come to together to dance like no-one else is watching. And this family has done it twice.
Mae is home. In Wenatchee, driving distance to Seattle. She has the luxury of being with her widowed Dad as he takes on his battle with a rare and aggressive form of cancer because she has been dumped, and fired, by her boyfriend boss. When Dad goes in for an aggressive treatment the other siblings gather. Jenny, little sister, Mathew, middle brother and Hannah, older sister. The play, though, is really the story of Mae and Dad. And Mae’s psychosexual debasement fantasy intruder-cowboy who seems to be appearing to her, waking and sleeping. There’s a real-life man too, local and available, Mac. And he and Mae have tit-for-tat fetishes which may well make them ideal for each other.
There a normalcy to the conversation of the first scene. Mae and Dad are obviously doing the obligatory tour around the house to appreciate and comment on what has changed. Mae might be on her best behaviour but the undercurrents are evident in the silences and the scene will presage a similar, tenser, more honest reprise later in the play. It’s the kind of sticky, replete, character setting dialogue that we see often. But seldom done as well.
For here, Director Claudia Barrie and Harriet Gordon-Anderson and Steve Rogers are in top form and their blazingly good work is a delight to watch.
Rogers never disappears despite a laid backness to Dad’s interactions. Absolutely clear is his love for his children and his absolute courage in sparing them what he can of his condition. He never looks at them without concern and he seldom speaks without a tiny rehearsal in his head to accentuate the positive and have the least negative impact. It’s such subtle and generous work from this veteran. So moving!
Gordon-Anderson has too has created a deep and truthful character. But from a more insubstantial cloth, the text is contradictory. Given that the writer, Clare Barron, worked on the play sitting next to her ailing father in a hospital room, there is an understandable ambivalence in the character most close to Dad. There is an irrationality to Mae, a jerky, disjointed text that gives us a motor mouth one minute and the cold implacability of a lawyer expecting to be heard the next. Gordon-Anderson’s Mae, however, is completely understandable. Her performance never jars or stop-starts, Mae’s conflicts are absorbed and whole.
The rest of the cast is equally skilled, though they are somewhat backgrounded to the Mae/ Dad relationship. Ainslie McGlynn’s Hannah has that briskness of a mother’s group organizer and the perky, handclappy, now now movement and stance of an older sister. Alex Beauman as the brother does a great job of bringing an engaging and likeable character to life without lessening the main relationship. Sarah Rae Anne Meacham has the ditsy energy of the youngest child and she sits well within the family dynamic. Gareth Rickards’ Cowboy has a sexy menace which he successfully accelerates to full threat and Cody Ross’ Mac is a very well created nice guy with a dark side.
Almost light in places, YOU GOT OLDER takes an incredibly sad and poignant story and gives it a flourish, a twist of darkness to explore this family on death watch. There are some quite funny moments inside the storytelling but Barrie has balanced them with genuine moments of pathos and some dark humour that gives the show its depth and reach. She is aided by some very thoughtful and integrated tech.
Starting with Isabel Hudson’s set design which is as understated as Steve Rogers’ performance. It blends, provides a smooth canvas for the lighting and seamlessly serves the multiple settings. But it is the window that is the metaphor to touch the heart of anyone who has sat by a loved one in pain, who has looked out in distress and seen the future, who has placed a little vase of flowers on a sill for reasons they don’t fully understand.
Similarly the audio track inserts itself impeccably into the show. The audio track for scene changes is perfectly placed, whether it be the echoes of a tinny music box or distorted car radio feel of a country and western sling. Music is well used, as are several very well operated underscores, the cicadas and night outside and the noisy barroom in another area both at the perfect level. ( Designer: Ben Pierpoint)
The lighting is surprising in places and the brightness and glare of the hospital room is exceptionally well created technically to shock at first but never overwhelm the audience. Sticking mainly with steel and white, there are also a few delicious colours sneak in. The pale pale green for the cowboy was lovely and the pink at the bar just enough without any garishness. (Designer: Ben Brockman)
YOU GOT OLDER is an impressively warm and inspirational offering, which wears its heart, and its social conscience, on its sleeve including a partnering with the Lung Foundation Australia. “Every Friday we will dedicate out performance to bringing awareness and raising funds to this important cause.” So see it on a Friday if possible but be sure to see it. YOU GOT OLDER is theatre for the soul which will inspire you to dance like no-body else is there.