Unpacking Loss with ‘Dressing Amelia’

Poster for 'Dressing Amelia'. A woman stands against a blue background holding a jar. The title, playwright, director, ticket price, dates, and presenting company are noted.

On the day of her mother’s wake, Amelia finds herself at a loss for what to wear. It doesn’t help that her dead mum keeps appearing in her childhood bedroom, all smiles and chatter. 

Written by Chloe Whitehorn and directed by Will Britton, Dressing Amelia unpacks mother-daughter baggage through quippy digs, impassioned speeches, and the ever-tantalizing promise that dirty laundry will be aired. A little bit soap opera, a little bit Gilmore Girls, this new psychological drama is the latest installment in Bottle Tree Productions’ Studio Series. 

We’ve all had arguments with loved ones in our heads, but Dressing Amelia takes it to a literal level. As Amelia (Brayah Pickard) sorts through her closet, she finds herself talking to her mother, Grace (Jennifer Verardi), whose ups and downs left little room for stability in Amelia’s childhood. Their clashing perspectives on Amelia’s formative years lead to mounting tension, and memories surface that Amelia would rather leave undisturbed. Downstairs, Grandma (Sandie Cond) grows increasingly impatient with her granddaughter’s dawdling, while the neighbour, Thomas (Alex McLarry), checks in periodically, offering sandwiches, juice, and valiant attempts at comfort. 

Britton’s set and lighting are lovely—deep cherry blossom walls and flooring evoke youthful nostalgia, while bins and boxes by the door bring a melancholy air of abandonment. The sunlight slipping through the blinds above the dresser has a rainbow-tinted, prismic quality, giving the room a whimsical feeling and effectively transporting the audience out of the black box theatre. 

Verardi brings a disarming combination of capriciousness and intensity to the role of Grace, illuminating the room with glittery energy and flower-child fervour. Pickard holds her own in the monologue-heavy role of Amelia and delivers satisfying snark, though the play’s melodrama occasionally gets the better of her believability. Cond projects palpable grief and frustration as Grandma, while McLarry provides a grounded, caring, and gently comedic presence as Thomas. 

Whitehorn does dark humour well, juxtaposing tense moments with punchy callbacks to earlier lines. Her knack for overlapping conversations is on full display in this script, and Britton’s direction takes advantage of the complex dialogue with clever staging. A heated interaction between Amelia, Grace, and Grandma—where Amelia is arguing with Grace in her head and Grandma in real life—is especially well-composed, bringing both comedy and despair to the surface. 

For all its emotional intensity, Dressing Amelia is a little too scattered to be consistently poignant. As the afternoon progresses, traumas upon traumas are added to Amelia’s laundry list of grievances, leading to revelations that feel simultaneously overwhelming and underwhelming. Despite the length at which the characters talk about themselves—or, in Thomas’ case, play the role of therapist—the writing often seems more idea-driven than character-driven. The more effective moments are the ones where we learn about small, tangible interactions—Amelia getting left at the circus as a child, her mother trick-or-treating with her, her grandmother buying marshmallows—which help to reveal relationship dynamics without overstating them. 

One of the most frustrating elements of new loss is the way that the dead linger just out of reach, simultaneously too far for comfort and too close for closure. We can no longer speak with our loved ones, but they’re still present in everything we say and do—and, in Amelia’s case, wear. Dressing Amelia is a complex, suspenseful, and morbidly funny exploration of bereavement. If you’re in the mood to dig through some family drama, it might be worth paying a visit to Amelia’s closet. 

‘Dressing Amelia’ plays at Bottle Tree Productions until June 15, 2024. Tickets and more information can be found here.