theatresmash

Globe & Mail Review Tijuana Cure

Review by J. Kelly Nestruck
You may think you've seen this play before
3 / 4 Stars


Curiously, Toronto is now seeing its second play of the season about the death of novelists, playwright and critic Carole Corbeil.

The first, SCRATCH, was written by her daughter, Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman, and appeared at Factory Theatre last fall, heralding a fresh new voice in Canadian Theatre.

TIJUANA CURE, currently being produced by the young and confidently named Theatre Smash, is by an old, familiar voice in Canadian theatre. That would be Layne Coleman, husband to Carole, father to Charlotte, and former artistic director of Saskatoon's 25th Street Theatre and Theatre Passe Muraille. His writing could be called "fresh," too, but only in the well-I-never, slap-across-the-face sense.

Adapted from a personal essay that first appeared in the Walrus in 2007, TIJUANA CURE is a one-man play performed by a woman, Ieva Lucs, who tells the true story of a Hail Mary attempt to save Corbeil from the cancer that filled her up and took her away at the age of 48.

During this journey to a Mexican clinic where patients seek to be cured through diet, Coleman struggles to remain hopeful for his wife while periodically escaping into drugs and memories of sexual encounters his is a mid-life crisis mixed with an end-of-life one.

With SCRATCH fairly fresh in my memory, TIJUANA CURE took on a Rashomon-esque quality. Many of the same characters and events appear through different, though clearly related, set of eyes. What father and daughter have in common is a self-deprecating tendency to depict themselves as self-absorbed, and their family members as saints. (Charlotte appears in TIJUANA CURE as the kindest, most well-adjusted 15 year old you've ever seen as if Layne is defending his daughter against her own depiction of herself in SCRATCH.)

While Charlotte played a semi-fictional version of herself in her play, Layne is played by Lucs, an actor who is nothing like Coleman insofar as she is young, buxom and a woman. This is a great choice, as it distances us from the sometimes overwhelmingly autobiographical nature of the text. The gender-blind casting makes Layne's lascivious, neurotic persona more palatable, while adding a veneer of theatricality to a show that often has the feel of a magazine article.

Lucs transforms Layne into an overgrown tomboy with a memorable, hyperventilating guffaw. She occasionally slips into the other characters: Carole, Charlotte, the doctors Carole consults and the prostitutes Layne considers consulting.

It's a casual an unostentatious performance; there's not attempt to impress or surprise us. The same goes for Ashile Corcoran's direction, with a nearly bare stage with two chairs and no set designer.

While the production could hardly be called visually captivating, Corcoran does make solid use of the difficult Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace. The best moment comes when Layne briefly explodes with rage at his inability to get what he wants and retreats to one of the corners of the big, brick box. There he stands facing the wall, self-administrating a timeout. It's an action that provides insight into Layne's character, the war he wages between boy and man, innocent and cynic.

Many of TIJUANA CURE's detours into Layne's thoughts are overly tangential and utterly predictable a first kiss gone awry, a girlfriend betrayed, the obvious Boomer memories of watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and the first man to walk on the moon. And yet Coleman's simple, unadorned straight-to-the-heart writing pulls you in. "Carole never fakes hand-holding," Layne says, and it gives you a picture of both his wife's temperament and how much he adores and idealizes her.

The ring of truth resonates in this moving, meandering memoir not banged out on a gong, but found floating in the overtones.

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