Although the word “communion” brings to mind the Catholic ritual of accepting the body and blood of Christ, Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor seems more interested in its alternate definition, “the sharing or exchanging of mental or spiritual thoughts or feelings.”
For there is plenty of such sharing – as well as withholding – in MacIvor’s Communion, receiving its regional premiere from Primal Forces at its new, possibly permanent, home at Fort Lauderdale’s Empire Stage.
Divided neatly into a trinity of two-character scenes, it pits a psychotherapist against her manic, terminally ill client and against the client’s staunchly evangelical daughter, in pairings that reveal various aspects of these deeply troubled women.
The initial sequence takes place at a therapy session of Leda’s (Kim Ostrenko), a divorced, recovering alcoholic who is battling cancer as well as a recurring dream of a closed door which probably represents her impending death. Since therapist Carolyn (Jacqueline Laggy) is classically trained and disciplined, she rarely speaks and certainly rarely gives Leda the advice she seeks.
This allows Ostrenko to dominate the opening scene with a near-monologue of rambling thoughts and stream-of-consciousness angry outbursts, which the actress handles masterfully with often wryly comic results. At the end of their session, Carolyn breaks out of her restraint and tells Leda to go see her estranged daughter, Annie (Jenna Wyatt).
Meet they do, in a hotel room where they warily circle each other, physically and verbally. They have each withheld vital information from one another – Leda’s illness and Annie’s recent marriage and pregnancy. Neither announcement manages to dampen their animosity, however much Leda tries to keep her cool and Annie (now calling herself Ann) wraps herself in church-based forgiveness lingo.
The third scene, inevitably, is between Ann and Carolyn. The former has tracked down the latter and they meet in Carolyn’s office, which she is packing up, intent on retiring and moving away. Ann, now divorced and soured on religion, comes looking for answers and perhaps to enter therapy. But Carolyn’s personal life has taken a turn for the worse and she now finds herself with her own unanswerable questions.
Because of her character, Laggy has a narrow emotional range to play, but she lets us sense her inner struggles throughout the evening. Wyatt is the least experienced of the three performers, saddled with the least sympathetic character, but she acquits herself well enough in heady company.
The production’s physical trappings are minimal on the intimate Empire space. Somehow, two designers – Jodi Dellaventura and Natalie Tavares – are credited for the set’s three chairs and one side table. Still, director Keith Garsson correctly puts the emphasis on the text, as well as its pauses and silences. The result is an intriguing character study, revolving around – though hardly resolving – issues of faith, mortality, interconnection and personal crises.
COMMUNION, Primal Forces at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Drive, Fort Lauderdale. Through Sunday, Feb. 11. $30. 866-811-4111 or visit primalforces.com.