Mrs Dexter and her Daily: well acted but rambling
There is something quite special in seeing a good Canadian play for the first time; especially when it features two fine Canadian actors at the top of their game. Mrs. Dexter and her Daily by Joanna McClelland Glass is a two act play – or perhaps it may be better described as a companion pair of single act plays, since the title characters are never seen on stage simultaneously, but define the story separately either side of the intermission.
The play is set in a fashionable district of Toronto in roughly present time, but its central themes of betrayal, survival and an unlikely kinship could easily be situated anywhere, anytime. Peggy Randall has been employed as Edith Dexter’s ‘daily’ (a non-resident housekeeper, rather than a live-in maid) for the past ten years, but it’s time for each of them to go their separate ways.
It’s not the personal choice of either, but rather due to circumstances forced upon them as a result of the Dexter’s divorce and the subsequent relocation of Edith Dexter to a condominium.
The first act belongs to Peggy, played with almost excessive folksy charm by Nicola Cavendish. Peggy is a Nova Scotian in her mid-sixties who, despite having lived through some tough times approaches her uncertain future with a Maritimer’s gritty optimism. She respectfully addresses her employer as “Mrs. D” and God as “Sir.” She has her own plan of how she hopes to “make ends meet” that involves a risky re-union with the father of her children.
Juxtaposed to Peggy’s character is that of the socially privileged, well educated Edith played with sentient vulnerability by Fiona Reid. She speaks constantly in classic novel aphorisms as she puzzles over trifle issues like finding a common paperclip in her refrigerator and whose now sole enjoyment comes from reading serious Russian literature. Edith has been left embittered by the duplicity of her husband and best friend, as she struggles to get through each day depending on rye and Canada dry, rarely venturing out of her sleepwear.
Despite the play’s morose themes, the dialogue is pretty weightless. It does however, have a tendency to ramble and may challenge the attentiveness of some theatre-goers. It helps that both Cavendish and Reid deliver their lines with poignancy and engaging humour. Though never physically evident, the affection and genuine esteem between the two is clearly acknowledged.
Pam Johnson’s set of Mrs. Dexter’s well equipped, tastefully designed kitchen combined with a casual dining area is evocative of modern suburbia and brings a high level of quality to the production. I was amazed to see that the faucet on the kitchen island sink actually worked! Marti Maraden’s sensitive direction maintains an even pace throughout.
Mrs. Dexter and her Daily continues at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage until the 7th February when the entire production moves to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on 17th February. For more information become domesticated here.