JUNE 2023 | Volume 228


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The Window Outside
by Belinda Lopez
Wise Owl Theatre Collective
Presentation House Theatre, North Vancouver
June 10-25
$35/$30 or 604-990-3474

Belinda Lopez’s Australian drama, The Window Outside, getting its Canadian premiere with direction by William B. Davis, is a sandwich generation tale dramatizing a situation many of us will have to face—or are currently facing—at one end or the other.

At one end is middle-aged Sharon (Liz Connors), desperate and exhausted. Her teenage kids are acting out and her husband has stopped loving her but she hardly has time or energy to deal with those crises because she’s too busy caring for her parents three houses away at the other end: Frank (Douglas Abel), completely incapacitated by a stroke, and his devoted wife Evelyn (Susan Hogan), in the early stages of rapidly worsening dementia. Sharon has gotten to the point where she can’t and won’tdo it anymore.

Sharon’s childless sister Miranda (Sarah Jane Redmond) has returned to the family home in Melbourne from her home in New York to help out. She’s more than a little removed from the realities on the ground. Sharon has little patience for Miranda, accusing her of living a glamourous, carefree life while she, Sharon, deals with the drudgery and horror. But with Sharon melting down and mom wandering away from the house and getting hopelessly lost, even Miranda realizes that they can no longer go on the way they have. She’ll finally accept that the sisters have to institutionalize their parents. Sharon calls it “assisted living.” Evelyn calls it “a nursing home where old people go to die.”

The character of Sharon gets to experience the high drama. Connors excels in her tortured performance of a woman at the end of her rope. “All my life I’ve taken care of everyone and no one even notices,” Sharon cries out to Miranda. And still no one really notices, as Miranda barely acknowledges her.

The play’s other axis, the relationship of Evelyn and Frank, is quieter and less overtly dramatic, but in some ways even more powerful and affecting. Frank is apparently unable to move or speak or take himself to the bathroom. Sharon calls him “an empty shell.” But he and Evelyn talk and dance. Their deep, lifelong love for each other cuts through Frank’s paralysis and what Evelyn calls her “fog.”

Their connection may exist only in Evelyn’s mind, but it’s more real to her than the sordid realities of age, disease, and disability dragging them both down. Hogan is luminous in portraying Evelyn’s extreme devotion to Frank, her insistence on recognizing his full humanity, and her own hopeless struggles against the nasty tricks dementia plays on her.
Davis does a good job steering the strong veteran cast. I just wish he had let the actors and script do the work of shaping our emotional responses rather than adding movie-style music to indicate what we should feel when. The songs that open and close the show work well, but I found the heavy violin and piano cues at various other points redundant and distracting.

This isn’t a cheerful play but it’s a bracing reminder of certain unavoidable realities and the tough decisions they inevitably demand.


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