In A Sunday Affair, a new play written by Gabrielle Houle, Thomas Morgan Jones (who also directs) and Richard Lee, there’s no time like the present. Seriously.
Enjoying its world premiere at Theatre New Brunswick, A Sunday Affair is a breezy love story that serves also as a cautionary tale about waiting too long for the ‘right moment’. Father Tom (Mathieu Chouinard) and Josephine (Miriam Fernandes) practice the same morning routine every Sunday before mass. Josephine dances to music on the radio before fighting with her hair in front of the bathroom mirror, while Father Tom makes sure to eat a hearty breakfast and kneel in prayer before running out the door. And without fail, it’s always raining, making for a wet and windy walk to church every Sunday morning.
Here’s the thing, Josephine is in love with Father Tom. No one (except maybe her cat) knows about her true feelings for the shy and awkward priest. Imagine Josephine’s relief when one Sunday, she finally finds the words to invite him over for dinner – the beginning of a long tradition of Sunday dinners and missed opportunities.
The years eventually go by, and nothing has changed except now Josephine and Father Tom are grey and old. Their Sunday morning routines remain the same, only now the pace is slower and they walk together to church. No confession (yet).
The story is about as mushy as a bowl of oatmeal sprinkled with Sweethearts. There’s not much in the way of surprise, although the ending is certainly clever. That said, it’s difficult not to be swept away by the irresistible charm of this love story that unfolds over sixty years and through inspired physical theatre.
With little dialogue, the story is told primarily through physical movement. It’s just not the story, but the characters’ emotions and desires that are revealed through movement (like a dream sequence where Josephine imagines her and Father Tom sharing a full life together). Fernandes’ movement is at once delivered with great calculation and vibrant enthusiasm. She brings a sense of genuine joy to Josephine, although that joy is often interrupted by the characters’ self-doubt. Fernandes’ soft vulnerability as Josephine is an interesting contrast to Chouinard’s Father Tom. The actor plays more of a ‘character’ than Fernandes, so much so that his performance brings to mind Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean. Through loose and elastic movement, Chouinard portrays Father Tom as someone who greatly lacks awareness and confidence. The difference in movement styles establishes firmly the characters’ different personalities; Josephine is the type of person who serves roast dinner, while Father Tom’s dinner menu includes hot dogs and caesar salad.
Kaitlin Hickey’s minimalist set serves the play, presented inside TNB’s Open Space Theatre, very well. Jones sets the interior scenes inside the white flooring, with exterior scenes (walking to church) taking place along the square’s outside edges. The precise definition of space is important considering that Fernandes and Chouinard are working without props, creating the world of these characters exclusively through movement. Jones frames scenes, both big and small, with clarity and depth.
White umbrellas hang on the back wall, providing the space with rich texture and colourful illumination, when lit from behind. Hickey’s lighting design is effective at casting the stage in a range of striking emotional tones.
Composer and Sound Designer Jean-François Mallet’s piano score is dynamic and enchanting, light and playful. Some may find that the Mallet’s composition takes some time to settle in, as it does feel just a touch too overly sentimental. Slowly, however, the music feels like less of a backdrop and more of a compelling companion to the story.
A Sunday Affair is like a cup of hot chocolate after hiking miles through a blizzard. Sometimes it’s just what you need.
Theatre New Brunswick and Le Théâtre Populaire d’Acadie’s co-production of A Sunday Affair ran Oct 13 – 23 in Fredericton. The show is currently touring New Brunswick, with performances in English and in French.
For more information about the show, including tour dates and how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.tnb.nb.ca/a-sunday-affair/