‘Assumption: a Comedy’ puts the ‘fun’ in Dysfunctional
“All families are dysfunctional,” proclaims the poster for Assumption: a Comedy. “Some are just better at hiding it.”
Assumption is a new play co-written by Jo McAlpine, Christie Jefferson, Cathy LeSage, and Anna Sudac. Presented by the Not So Amateur Amateurs and directed by Anna Sudac, this play was brought to life under a unique set of circumstances. Starting with a spontaneous idea by McAlpine and Jefferson to co-write a one-act play and cast their family and friends, Assumption came together for two performances at Domino Theatre on Saturday, May 20th.
Bringing family and friends together is a fitting way to present this story. Set at the Assumption Bed & Breakfast, the play follows an afternoon in the lives of the Sheehans, a quirky group of siblings who meet for a long-awaited family reunion. The Sheehans appear one by one, each with their own baggage—in Brian’s (Bryan Scott) case, this manifests as four literal suitcases. Phone calls are overheard, zingers are launched, secrets are spilled, and—as the title suggests—assumptions are made.
The Sheehans are greeted enthusiastically by Hannah (Suzanne Becker) and Helen (Janice McAlpine), the couple who own the Assumption. Becker as Hannah is a charismatic busybody who delivers some excellent physical comedy as she sneaks around to listen in on the Sheehans’ conversations. Meanwhile, McAlpine is a delight whenever she appears, often popping in and out of scene as Helen is preparing a large meal for the family.
Assumption’s script is full of comedic moments of miscommunication, and the writing pays wonderful attention to the characters’ idiosyncrasies. While the cast is new to acting, there’s a strong sense that the actors get their characters. My favourite Sheehan sibling, if I have to choose, is Sara (Joanne McAlpine), one of the central conclusion-jumpers who unwittingly ignites the drama that escalates throughout the play.
One of the many highlights of the play is a monologue performed by divorce lawyer Julie (Christie Jefferson) during the set change from the B&B’s lobby to the dining room. Julie’s one-sided phone conversation about a custody battle over a cat was so engrossing that I hardly noticed the actors moving set pieces around behind her. This is a good example of how Assumption takes what could be its weaknesses—in this case, a lack of crew—and finds clever ways to transform them into strengths.
Jesse MacMillan’s lighting design contributes focus to a show bursting with eccentric characters. The design also added character to the Assumption Bed & Breakfast—I especially liked the wall projection of a colourful stained glass window, a carry-over from the B&B’s past life as a church. As the family stoner Karen (Carol McAlpine) puts it, “So trippy!”
At the sold-out Saturday matinee, the audience was highly engaged and responsive. I noticed that many of the biggest laughs came at the expense of Brian, the fussy and flamboyant gay brother. While the play generally does a good job of depicting queerness in a casual, non-alienating way—many of the central characters are queer women—some of the humour around Brian felt a little off to me. It wasn’t always clear whether his lines were meant to garner a ‘laughing at’ moment or a ‘laughing with’ moment, and the character’s proximity to stereotypes made me a little uneasy with the uproarious laughter at certain lines.
Watching Assumption, it is very clear that this production has been put together by a group of people who are deeply invested in the play. In a post-show talk, Sudac mentioned that the script, first drafted by Cathy LeSage based on an outline by Jo McAlpine and Christie Jefferson, underwent a collaborative revision process over several months. Through the rehearsal process, changes were made and new lines were added based on the actors’ ad-libs.
While there’s something special about this family-run premiere that I don’t think can ever be recaptured, I would love to see Assumption staged again in the future. This play offers several dynamic roles for older women, an often ignored demographic of brilliant and hilarious actors. I believe I’m correct in assuming that Assumption has a bright future in store. In the meantime, I hope the McAlpine-studded cast are celebrating the victory of a successful premiere.