Returning to an uncomplicated childhood is a way of dealing with present crises and clarifying the future. Because the family cottage was a special place for siblings Crockett and Pen Sumner when they were young, revisiting it seems the right place to complete the circle of life. This is the premise behind The Lights of Shangri-La by David Whilteman, a new work that focuses on various facets of love.
The two particularly well-drawn characters at the centre of the drama give Shaun Toohey as Crockett and Cathy Nobleman as Pen numerous ways to connect — and they do. Toohey is first class in presenting Crockett as a man submerging his insecurities and loneliness beneath a glaze of preening performance, while Nobleman gives Pen a motherly tenderness in caring for her brother, marred only by an occasionally irritating whine, while she tries to tidy up the loose ends of her life and ensure the safety of her family.
Nisha Toomey as Pen’s daughter, Maddy, delivers a strong cameo, but Lucus Kenny, despite looking right for the role, on preview night at least, seemed ill at ease, as Crockett’s estranged lover Ilya. In fairness to Kenny, this is the part that seems written primarily to serve the others. Only in one speech when he talks about his parents does Ilya have a semblance of the depth of the other characters.
It is likely that Whiteman will work further on his script now that it has been brought to life under Sarah Hearn’s strong direction and excellent technical backup, particularly the original music, composed by sound designer Mike Heffernan. When Whiteman revisits The Lights of Shangri-La, hopefully he will remove the complications of the fantasy/dream /nightmare sequence that falls flat and will end the play at the point where Pen falls into her last sleep. That would make a well-written play even better.
The Toto Too world premiere production of The Lights of Shangri-La continues at Academic Hall, University of Ottawa until September 13.
The Lights of Shangri-La
By David Whiteman
ToTo Too Theatre
Director: Sarah Hearn
Sets and Lighting: David Magladry
Sound and original score: Mike Heffernan
Costumes: Glynis Ellens
Crockett Sumner……………….Shaun Toohey
Pen Sumner…………………….Cathy Nobleman
Ilya Petrov…………………….. Lucus Kenny
Maddy Sumner………………….Nisha Toomey
Voice cast: Miriam Chartrand, Courtney Dinelle-Mayer, Mike Heffernan, Josh Kemp, and Harrison True