Over the 80 minutes it takes to watch Armstrong’s War, people are drawn to each other.
That doesn’t just describe the relationship of the play’s odd couple – a young wounded Canadian soldier being read to in hospital by a perky 12-year-old girl – who find they’re linked less by their shared last name than their loss of innocence, their dislike of being labeled as “damaged” and the comfort they find in fiction.
The audience is pulled in, too. Armstrong’s War is goddamn charming; sweet, without being sugary. Colleen Murphy’s dialogue and plot are straightforward without belaboured moments, unfurling twists in Michael’s and Halley’s backstories that keep the audience engaged to the end. There’s no happy ending or playwright speechifying about war. There are just unflashy stories of singular characters growing as they challenge each other on what it means to have hope. It’s an effecting battle and good theatre.
Heather Russell’s and Justin Otto’s performances, under Robb Paterson’s excellent direction, work in lockstep with the script to casually illuminate deep issues. Both bring authentic nuanced performances onto the stage and if there is a greater need to suspend your disbelief around both characters – Russell isn’t 12, Otto’s Corporal has some asides more suited to Shakespeare than Canadiana – the payoff is that much greater.
It’s nice to be complicit in theatrical make-believe when the cast is doing great work and enjoying it. Grab a ticket to see it now in Winnipeg or, if you live out of town, catch the regional tour in the New Year.
By Colleen Murphy
Through Nov. 15
Directed by Rob Paterson; with Justin Otto and Heather Russell; set and costume design by Jamie Plummer; lighting design by Larry Isacoff; sound design by Michael Wright; apprentice directed by Tatiana Carnevale; stage managed by Kathryn Ball; apprentice stage managed by Airyn Lancaster.