Theatre Erindale’s latest concoction, Uncommon Women and Others, is spellbinding. Set at a prestigious liberal arts college for women, Wendy Wasserstein’s play takes the audience back to their senior year, which, let’s be honest, really hasn’t changed much since the ’70s. The girls’ house is a place of many opinions: what happens after graduation, whether or not one should get married, whether or not one should be sleeping around. And the truth is that there’s no right answer; there’s just getting there, all while being supervised by the adorable Mrs. Plum (Kira Meyers-Guiden).
Director Diana Leblanc makes some bold choices in her direction. Projections are not an easy thing to pull off in a play—they are often distracting and very often pointless. Leblanc, however, doesn’t try to hide her projections—instead, she integrates them right into the fabric of the play. They are not an afterthought, but a deliberate tool. The first and last scenes in the play take place in a New York restaurant, where a city skyline at sunset splashes across the entire back wall of the stage. During scenes at the college, the front of an old Hart House–type building sets the mood. The other challenge Leblanc confronts is the number of locations required by the script, but this too is seamless, with a bedroom stage right serving for every bedroom necessary, and the dining room centre and living room stage left work as common areas. From there, everything is accomplished with lighting, pulling specific individuals and moments from the shadows.
There are no shallow or easy roles in Uncommon Women and Others. Everyone gets a big piece of pie, as it were. All the girls are people—they feel worried and excited and stay up till all hours reading Nietzsche and talking about sex. They are a generation of women fast outgrowing a school system that endorses formal tea socials. They all seem to be battling for their independence, for something to keep them from blurring into the background.
It is out of this ardent feminism that my major qualm with the play arises, and it does not lie with anyone but the writer. I am confused as to whether Wasserstein is advocating for women’s rights or shooting them down. Several of the characters seem utterly lost without a man to help them along. There are moments where it seems as if the major takeaway from the play is, “Don’t worry, you were never going to use your education in a practical sense anyway. All you ever needed was an MRS.” Yet, at the same time, the girls engage in a great deal of man-bashing, expressing their dreams for their lives to come. The contrasting message is, “Be your own person and don’t worry about what your peers are doing.” And at the end, there is very little satisfaction to spread around.
I believe—and I could be very wrong about this—that Wasserstein’s favourite character was Carter, played by Dominique Corsino in the Theatre Erindale production. Carter is silent, stoic, and the least distracted of the roommates. She is also the only freshman in a house full to the brim with seniors. Carter knows exactly what she wants: to make a movie. And she does. And as far as we know, she is satisfied with that metaphorical birth. Corsino brings a beautiful depth into the role. Her character simmers away, revealing nothing, and she is incredibly patient with girls dropping in at all hours to unburden themselves on her.
All the other characters stand on the opposite end of the teeter-totter. Rita (Larissa Crawley), Samantha (Marryl Smith), Kate (Emma Robson), Muffet (Rachelle Goebel), Holly (Roxhanne Norman) and Susie (Sarah Kern) are all brilliant, extroverted, and looking for love. Leilah (Chelsea Riesz) balances somewhere between them, with academics on one hand and her friends on the other. Every actor here has found something that makes them special. That thing is both personal to them and to their characters, and despite their often extravagant personalities, they are grounded in truth.
In her introduction in the program, Leblanc writes about how this piece is special because all the actors “[play] young women in a life situation that resembles their own. Graduation. Facing a world they have been preparing for and, at the same time, one that they have been sheltered from”. There will be nostalgia here for anyone who has been to university and stood at that place between the last day of class and the first day of the real world. And I can’t deny it—I feel a little twinge in my heartstrings when anyone wearing pyjamas eats peanut butter with a spoon.
Uncommon Women and Others runs until January 31.