The title of Beverly Cooper’s The Eyes of Heaven can be misleading. While there are certainly mystical elements to the play, and a definite notion of spirituality throughout, the play thrives on its depiction of human interaction. The London Community Players production of The Eyes of Heaven at the Palace Theatre does well to capitalize on this, keeping in touch with the emotions that ground the story and make it a relatable work worth watching.
The play focuses principally on the relationship between a mother and daughter, shaken by the loss of the family patriarch and struggling to get by with only each other left. Here, Martha Zimmerman shines as Glen, with a spot on portrayal of a small-town mother doing her best to contend with a rambunctious teenager. The vast majority of the play features scenes with only these two characters, offering a poignant glimpse into modern mother-daughter relations. However in this way The Eyes of Heaven never seems to tread into the dangerous realm of cliché, staying centred in realism and the genuine humours, sorrows, and arguments that are typical of a family. In mentioning the family dynamics and their exceptional portrayal on stage, I would be remiss not to commend the work of Lila Ciesielski on her first dramatic stage play. As the angsty, misunderstood, adolescent, Miss Ciesielski very well balances attitude with vulnerability, capturing the tone of a generation with considerable skill. While at times her pout was just a little too polished, she handled the raw material of the dialogue well.
The Eyes of Heaven manages to skilfully handle the supernatural elements of the piece as well, if not quite to the same level as the family dramatics. The set remains simple and effective, showing only the house of the main characters and its furnishings, letting the controversial encounter that sparks the plot happen off stage. This allows for the mystic elements to be described through elegant dialogue, that ends up being much more effective than a trick with lighting would be. This serves to enforce the idea that the supernaturalism itself is not the main focus, but its interpretation by the characters that is really important. This thematic marriage of set design and lighting with plot works wonders to keep the audience drawn in to a story that takes a hard left away from everyday experiences.
The play works best as a character study, and it finds itself at its least effective when straying away from the dynamic of the main two characters. While the two secondary characters are inherently important to the plot of the show and were both finely acted, they are burdened with a bit too much exposition to keep the play flowing as well as it could. In the second act especially, the play seems to lose focus until everything is reined in for the final conclusion. However it is almost a necessary distraction to underscore the reality of these characters, the distracted nature of growing up and trying to establish a clear path only to have things inexorably go off course.
It is easy to understand why someone would feel such a close attachment to The Eyes of Heaven, and why it is so easy to get wrapped up its dramatics. While it does not have the most compelling story to tell, and it is not an over-the-top and extravagant affair, it is raw and relatable. Watching this production, it is clear that someone worked hard to put their heart into this show and that comes through with every reference to small-town Ontario, every exasperated complaint from either of the show’s protagonists, and every moment that reminds you of how important it felt to be 15 years old. With that connection established, the show finds its greatest success.
The Eyes of Heaven continues to run at The Palace Theatre until the 31st of January. Tickets can be purchased online at www.palacetheatre.ca.