In Judith Thompson’s Perfect Pie, Patsy and Marie meet as children in a small drive-through town in Ontario in a time when children from what were considered good families shared bathwater once a week . Despite major differences in class and social status they become fiercely loyal friends, remaining so until their teens when they are abruptly separated by an accident, the details of which remain murky until deep in the play’s run time, though given the overall tone, the events leading up to it are not difficult to deduce.
Patsy spends three weeks in a coma, only to discover upon waking that Marie has dropped off the face of the earth. It is twenty years before they see each other again, when on her way to something more glamourous, Marie (now Francesca) stops in at Patsy’s for an afternoon of catching up and gothic melodrama over chicken pot pie.
Patsy has stayed in Marmora, having gotten her childhood wish of becoming a wife and mother on the family farm. She watched her mother die slowly and gruesomely which is described in technicolor with bonus details. Francesca, on the other hand, ran for her life and never looked back. She did not return for her own mother’s funeral and one may wonder that she didn’t elect to give her hometown a pass for the rest of her life.
It’s a familiar dynamic between fictional women: the independent bohemian who took her pain and went out into the world and made something of herself though remains man-less and childless and presumably empty inside, and the housebound waif who never left home, safely ensconced in the bosom of her family, contemplating the agonized gas pains of the alfalfa engorged cows in springtime, though the equal parts envy and scorn they usually regard each other with are refreshingly absent.
The present incarnations of the women share the stage with their ghostly, white-clad childhood selves: Patsy (Erica Anderson) the prim and kind-hearted daughter of respectable and prosperous Protestant farmers, while Marie (Megan Carty), perpetually dirty and scabby and sometimes lice-ridden, is from a poor Catholic family, with an alcoholic and abusive mother and chronically unemployed father. Marie, the “town dog,” suffers from seizures and is tormented and scapegoated by the other children but she is clearly a survivor.
The story calls for all manner of suffering and the characters become what those things require them to be. It’s an interesting thing to do to actors and I was impressed by all of the acting. All four women are convincing in their roles and their friendship is believable. Sheena Turcotte is particularly effective as Patsy. The genuine, goofy laugh she breaks into when Francesca says something she finds amusing is a beautiful counterpoint to the bundle of raw nerves roiling just beneath her placid and folksy exterior.
Since the accident, Patsy has suffered from epilepsy, the oncoming seizures of the disorder she characterizes in one of the play’s many rather intense monologues as a boogeyman stalking her through the Kingston Mall, and when I say intense, I mean intense. The monologue which takes place at the end of Act 1 so conveniently adjacent to the intermission dispatched me straight to the cash bar. By the end of Act 2, the same monologue takes on such devastating additional meaning that there was nothing strong enough in the Arts Court Studio.
There is definite poetry here, beautiful and devastating in its simplicity, that I was able to appreciate after a few days. Twenty years ago, each girl had a moment of clarity: Marie sees that she has to get out of that town and Patsy sees that she will never leave. Marie changes her mind about dying and Patsy changes her mind about living. Marie`s seizures go away and Patsy`s start. Whether the characters are able to transcend their experiences and have that second moment of clarity is a bit ambiguous. What is not ambiguous is that Francesca is certainly lying when she tell Patsy she wishes she could stay forever.
Unfortunately, the poetry in Perfect Pie is at maximum volume and the effect was bludgeoning. Terrible suffering viscerally expressed in highly stylized histrionics, resolved by a deus ex machina deftly rendered in light and sound, is not, I discovered, the mode of expression for me. I also could have done without the gratuitous dead dog but I guess a severed limb wasn’t enough for Can Lit bingo. Thankfully, no one froze to death in the snow, though someone does drop dead raking leaves, which shows restraint under the circumstances. I went home with a splitting headache and seriously contemplated watching an episode of Two and a Half Men, though thank God, it didn`t quite come to that.