The story Hewlett weaves here is wrenchingly honest, believable, sometimes laugh out loud funny, sometimes heartbreaking.
—Joff Schmidt, CBC theatre reviewer
Life, we see in Kate Hewlett's The Swearing Jar, is all about balance. There's balancing love with truth, and balancing guilt with living.
Playwriting, too, is often a question of balance - and while there's much to recommend The Swearing Jar, its biggest problems are in striking that balance.
The Swearing Jar began as a hit at the 2008 Toronto Fringe Festival, and the play now seeing its professional premiere at Prairie Theatre Exchange is an expanded version of that Fringe success. Having not seen the original Fringe production, I can't say how this 105-minute version compares - but suspect that more may be less in this case.
The Swearing Jar focuses on Carey (Sarah Constible) and Simon (Gabriel Gosselin), a couple in their 30s expecting their first child. In an effort to curb their pottymouths before the birth of the baby, they start contributing to a "swearing jar" - though The Swearing Jar is really more about what Carey and Simon have sworn to each other than it is about naughty words (although all that bad language is used to great comic effect by Hewlett).
Sarah Constible, Terri Cherniack & Gabriel Gosselin (Bruce Monk)
Stirring the pot are Owen (Christopher Stanton), a musician with whom Carey has a particularly complicated relationship; and Bev (Terri Cherniack), Simon's mother.
The timelines - which scenes are set in the present, and which are flashbacks - are intentionally confusing in the first act. But patience with this complex structure pays off in Hewlett's intricately-plotted script, which is all I can say on that without divulging significant spoilers.
But the story Hewlett weaves here is wrenchingly honest, believable, sometimes laugh out loud funny, sometimes heartbreaking. While the two central characters are not quite as fully fleshed out as I might like, their relationship rings true - thanks in part to Hewlett's smart but unpretentious way with dialogue, but also largely to fantastic chemistry between Constible and Gosselin, under director Stewart Arnott. The way they tease each other, the way they laugh at each other's jokes, even the way they bicker feels entirely authentic, and draws us into their story.
And had Hewlett opted to leave it at that, The Swearing Jar
would be a gem of a play. But it's also laced with musical numbers. The premise is that the songs are performed at Simon's birthday party - so rather than being a musical, this is a play with music.
But it feels like a play with musical interruptions. The tunes (composed by Hewlett and Stanton) are catchy enough, though the lyrics tend to an over-earnest clunkiness. And they're superbly performed by Constible, who has a beautiful voice, and Stanton, a very fine guitarist. But they never quite integrate properly in The Swearing Jar
, and break the flow of the story in which we're trying to invest ourselves.
Which is a %**&#!@ shame, since there's so much else to enjoy in this smart, beautifully performed dramatic comedy.The Swearing Jar runs at PTE until December 2.