By Michael Roberds
Ben Montgomery (Richard Wiens) was a young doctor whose altruistic heart took him to the war torn Central American country of Cartuga where he hoped to use his medical skills to help the poor. But soon after his arrival there – he disappeared and was believed to be dead. Now, three years later, his parents – Ben, Sr. (Simon Challenger) and Lynne Montgomery (Cindy Peterson) – upon invitation of Bishop Melinda (David Secunda) – have travelled to Central America themselves to sit in on the historic Cartuga Truth and Reconciliation Commission with hopes of discovering what really happened to their son now that a witness (Chris Francisque) has come forward with information.
The narrative of this suspenseful story jumps back and forth in time between Ben’s initial arrival in Cartuga, where he meets and instantly becomes infatuated with Beatriz (Mallory Polliyaguru), a beautiful young university student, and his parents’ later dealings with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where they testify on their son’s behalf.
Universally strong performances from the entire cast under the skilled direction of Alaina Holland (who also designed the minimalistic set – with moody lighting and sound from Angela Bell and June Ainsworth respectively) bring this dark and haunting work to life and make the blossoming romance and impending doom all that more real.
Two performances stand out for their honesty and emotional range: Peterson as the mother always seemed to be a shade away from breaking down completely (especially playing against Challenger, who too often performed the same note of fist-clenched frustration in almost every scene) and Francisque, whose dialogue came off as natural conversation and not scripted at all.
The scenes between Wiens and Polliyaguru work because the two actors appear to have chemistry together and so the awkwardness they have early on is natural and disappears once the characters have become closer. Secunda is a perfect fit in his role as the bishop and the fact that he was a literal last-minute replacement doesn’t show at all.
Although probably better known for his work on the television shows Friday Night Lights and Shameless, playwright Etan Frankel’s writing career began in the theatre where he achieved some success (this play won the Williamstown Theatre Festival’s Weissberger Playwriting Award in 2006).
‘Truth and Reconciliation’ runs until May 16 at Surrey Little Theatre (7027 184th Street, Surrey). Tickets can be ordered by phone at (604) 576-8451 or at Brown Paper Tickets.