Peggy Pickit Sees The Face of God
Direction: Giles Burton (written by Roland Schimmelpfennig/translated by David Tushingham)
Circa Theatre; Circa Two (September 14 – October 12)
After six years apart couples Liz (Rebecca Parker) and Frank (Gavin Rutherford) and Martin (Patrick Davies) and Carol (Fingal Pollock) reunite for a dinner party. That’s ostensibly our premise for Peggy Pickit on now at Circa Two.
Though we never see the actual dinner party – or rather the meal – we are there watching Liz and Frank hosting Carol and Martin for the play’s duration. One set, one scene (almost), all four on stage all the time, a fair spread of the lines.
We will learn that Frank and Liz have been successful staying put, Frank’s a doctor, Liz’s medical career on hold to raise their child. And their friends Martin and Carol also work in medicine, though they chose to work an aid program gig in a third world country. They’re back now and the friends have been in touch but they’re not as close as they were.
Regularly the play ‘freezes’ and an actor will break the fourth wall and reveal an intriguing minor detail or judgment. It’s a device more likely to be used in cinema and all the more interesting for its placement in live theatre. Here we hear some of the back-story that contributes to the awkwardness and stiltedness of this reunion. We’re also prepared for upcoming tensions. The place has been compared to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The setup and situation is similar in some ways, but this is more about the internal logic surrounding our existential fears.
These two couples are envious of each other for reasons they can never correctly articulate or understand. It speaks, on some level, to how we can never truly understand another person’s life; we choose then to see only the good outcomes and the successful stories as drivers in another person’s life, as motivators for our jealousy or fear or scepticism – we’re not prepared to take on the grief, anxiety, negatives or bad-luck stories in anyone else’s narrative.
Liz and Frank have baggage and misery. Martin and Carol do too. But they continue to think only of the hardships they’ve experienced, of the right choices they are sure they’ve made. This failure to connect properly, to consider the fully-rounded experience of the other couple is what we as an audience are forced to consider.
All four actors are superb. Impossible to pick a highlight or an MVP – though perhaps the women are tasked with showing the emotional toll in more ways.
If the production suffers in any way, it’s for not presenting the meal. Other stagings have had the actors placed at a table to eat. Though hearing about the preparation in the asides is intriguing. And the focus on the mundane is a clever ruse.
There’s a genius moment where the cast sit on stage in character listening to a song played on a turntable. It shows many things – the passing of what accounts for ‘real’ time and again the mundane aspect of an evening; it forces a reset too.
Peggy Pickit doesn’t have any answers. It only has questions. Very interesting ones. It’s a profound look at white-privilege, impostor syndrome, saviour complexes and the jealousy that emerges when connections lapse.
It won’t be for everyone. Which might well be the reason I loved it. I could feel myself working to understand it, to almost interact with it. That’s a great theatrical experience for me. That’s the sort I crave.
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