Female friendships centre stage in complicated, messy Di and Viv and Rose
Royal MTC production explores the complex relationship of 3 women in story that spans decades
How fitting that the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre's Di and Viv and Rose opened on International Women's Day.
The 2013 play is by a woman — British playwright Amelia Bullmore — and is directed by a woman, Winnipeg's own Heidi Malazdrewich. It also stars three women — a powerhouse all-local cast of Sarah Constible, Cherissa Richards and Charlene Van Buekenhout.
But most of all, it's fitting because this is a tragicomedy that is very much about women, and particularly about the power and pitfalls of women's friendships.
Those relationships, of course, can often become quite messy — and Di and Viv and Rose is itself sometimes a messy play, but one that often beautifully depicts the complicated bonds we form with the people we adopt as our "second family."
It follows the three title characters over a span of 30 years, beginning with their days as university flatmates. They seem an unlikely group — Viv (Constible) is a driven academic, Di (Richards) is an athlete and peacemaker who gels the trio, and Rose is an irrepressibly energetic planner who finds adventure in her life through many, many sexual relationships with men ("I've discovered if you ask boys to sleep with you, they will!" she gleefully tells Di).
They form a friendship that survives — and evolves — over the course of decades, from the early '80s to this decade, as their lives spin in wildly different directions.
What's interesting, and sometimes frustrating, about Di and Viv and Rose is its curious structure. Its scope is both sweeping and intimate — covering decades, but focused tightly on the trio. Scenes are sometimes short vignettes, and often make big leaps forward in time.
And the "big moments" in the characters' lives — the climactic turning points that other plays might focus on — all happen between those scenes.
Yet we feel we have a complete picture of the characters' lives, because we see all of the quieter moments in between those big moments. We discover how Di and Viv and Rose struggle to react to those offstage changes, and how those changes alter their relationship — sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically.
It's these moments, Bullmore seems to remind us, where we actually spend most of our time. The turning points might be what we remember most vividly — but it's the moments in between when we do most of our living.
As a result, Di and Viv and Rose is willfully, stubbornly and sometimes frustratingly plotless (and, at 150 minutes with intermission, longer than it needs to be — it does feel like a case where less would have been more).
That doesn't mean, though, that it lacks a point — or emotional impact.
The three performers are in top form. Constible in particular knocks a couple of very emotional scenes out of the park (and lands some of the show's bigger laughs with Viv's often puzzled reactions to her besties). Under Malazdrewich's direction, they're entirely believable as fast friends.
Bullmore's commentary on friendship is, like those long-term friendships themselves, complicated and layered.
"Life is separate," Viv insists. "We don't ask to be born, we don't know when we're going to die. What could be more separate than that?"
Yet Bullmore suggests otherwise — we may live separately, we may even drift apart, but for better or worse, our friendships are inextricably woven into our lives.
It is, in the end, a strange play in some ways, but also one that's undeniably relatable — and one that will make you want to pick up the phone to call those friends who get all your in jokes and truly know your life between all the big moments.
Di and Viv and Rose runs at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre's Tom Hendry Warehouse until March 24.