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Waiting Room takes audience on an emotional ride

chairs in a waiting room

Waiting room pic - waiting room takes audience on an emotional ride
Michelle Monteith, Jordan Pettle and Ari Cohen star in Waiting Room at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto.

Even if you’ve never logged hours in a hospital waiting room with a sick child, the emotional roller coaster is something every parent can picture. Playwright Diane Flacks didn’t have to rely on her imagination though. Her second child spent the first year of his life at SickKids in Toronto, and the hospital became an ad hoc second home.

Her latest play, Waiting Room, evolved from that experience. Set in a hospital, the story centres on Chrissie and Jeremy, parents to toddler Jessie who has a brain tumour. As they anxiously await post-op results, MRIs and test results, we see how illness and all its trappings test their relationship. A second story line between the doctors looking after Jessie (dealing with a diagnosis of dementia, another neurological condition) offers an interesting counterpoint and tension.

In this microcosm, Flacks explores the differences between how men and women handle crises (women talk, men research), hospital politics, the ethics of medical experiments, and doctor-patient relationships. Through the character of Brenda (brilliantly played by Jane Spidell), a veteran hospital parent whose teenage son has lived with a chronic illness, we see how a parent’s self-identity can easily get swallowed up by patient files, appointments and consults. So much so that when he turns 18, mom has to comes to terms with not being in charge of his care anymore. His files must be sent to the adult hospital across the street.

Michelle Monteith and Jordan Pettle are note perfect as Chrissie and Jeremy. Both are hauntingly real, alternating between vulnerable and strong as each partner requires. Their neurosurgeon Dr. Molloy (Ari Cohen), deals in brains but not emotion. He doesn’t even call the parents by name (using mom and dad instead) or remember what they do for a living. But even these shortcomings are excused by his boldness (or is it hubris?) in the OR. Jenny Young as Melissa provides much needed stability to the parents and her supervisor/lover Dr. Molloy, but even she eventually cracks. Pediatric chief Dr. Aayan (Warona Setshwaelo) is left to pick up the pieces.

Despite the tense subject matter, Waiting Room is filled with bright spots of humour and inspiration. There is not a word out of place in this economically written story. With direction from Flacks’ frequent collaborator, Richard Greenblatt (2 Pianos, 4 Hands) and clever, subtle lighting from Bonnie Beecher, Waiting Room is a catharsis waiting to be had.

Waiting Room runs until February 15 at The Tarragon Theatre mainspace. For tickets or more information visit tarragontheatre.com. To win two tickets to the February 12 performance, go to ParentsCanada.com/waiting-room.

a man carrying two children

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