Deena Aziz in Another Home Invasion
It was a news headline about star-crossed lovers that caught Joan MacLeod’s eye.
A senior couple living in the Kootenays, married 69 years, was split up when the wife was transferred to another care facility miles away. She was dead two days after the move, her husband following weeks after.
This small tragedy led the celebrated Canadian playwright to pen Another Home Invasion, an exploration of the hazards of our twilight years. The one-woman show is having its Montreal debut at the MAI this month, under the auspices of Tableau d’Hôte Theatre artistic director Mike Payette.
Jean (Deena Aziz) is 80 and living with her husband, Alec, in their little home in North Vancouver. Jean is independent and relatively healthy, with her daughter and granddaughter chipping in with day-to-day tasks. But with Alec’s mental and physical health slipping, Jean knows it’s past time for them to enter a care facility. The priority is to stay together, as they have for nearly their entire lives.
Two threats loom: the byzantine social services system, which might find reason to send them to different homes. And the other is the amorphous threat of a man who shows up unannounced one day on Jean’s doorstep.
It’s a delicate one-woman show for Aziz to incarnate: Jean is slowly unspooling a story in a non-chronological manner, picking up different threads from her life. It’s like a very long, one-sided visit to your grandmother, a character study of the women who, having raised their families, continue to labour as caregivers as their partners age.
Aziz is pitch-perfect as Jean: her hands are delicately rounded with age, her steps are cautious and neat, her voice crackles with age and the inflection of her time. She dons white orthopedic sneakers, a long vest and a tasteful headscarf. And while Aziz’s performance is excellent, I wonder if the show would have packed more of a punch if an actress closer to Jean’s age had been cast.
Designer Lara Kaluza’s set is beautifully simple, with layers of thread cocooning Jean’s world, which boils down to a comfy chair, blanket, lamp and table. Shifting light and delicate sound design pad Jean’s domestic life and memories. It reminded me of my grandmaman’s station at home: a comfortable perch from which one can watch TV, make notes and phone calls, and doze.
Certainly, a week in the life of an old lady is not necessarily a sexy proposition at the theatre, but Another Home Invasion is a comfortable thinkpiece with a simple love story at its heart. And with the baby boomer generation now reaching its golden years, aging well is a theme our society is wrestling with — and I think it’s bold for TDT to tackle it.
“We all know a Jean,” says Payette, who starts as Geordie Productions’ AD this summer.
“Sometimes, especially with younger generations, we dissociate ourselves with stories surrounding the elderly,” he explained to me on CKUT last week. “But certainly what we and Joan are asking is for us to really to look at this not as ‘if this happens to us’, but ‘when’ this happens to us.” ■
Another Home invasion is on at the MAI (3680 Jeanne-Mance) until March 26. The show is 80 minutes, with no intermission. Tickets cost $25, $20 for seniors and students.