Written by Megan Gail Coles
Directed by Emma Tibaldo
Based on the novella by Lisa Moore

St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre, April 25-27
Tickets available now!

Reviewed by Drew Brown

Wedding season in Newfoundland and Labrador bears down on us once again. As sunrays crown the pine-clad hills and Summer spreads her hand, we gird ourselves in finest formalwear to celebrate happy couples publicly pledging to live happily ever after from atop the imperious summit of the relationship escalator. Leave it to Megan Gail Coles to lift the bridal veil adorning this crown jewel of heterosexuality to reveal that the only thing more stifling for the human spirit than compulsory monogamy is a reckless attempt to override it from the inside out.

Grace follows Eleanor (Amelia Manuel) at her friend Constance’s (Deidre Gillard-Rowlings) wedding reception, simmering in a rolling day boil of resentment as her husband Philip (Aiden Flynn) flaunts the young blonde PhD student he has also brought along as his date. Coerced into an open marriage because she cannot bear the thought of Philip abandoning and replacing her, Eleanor sits on the sidelines stewing over her ambivalent attachment to a  husband she cannot bring herself to despise; having subsumed her entire sense of self into her identity as Philip’s wife and the mother of his child, she now realizes her total self-abandonment to an “us” of matrimonial love was never a mutual arrangement. She nurses violent fantasies about ritualistically dismembering the Other Woman and actively contemplates shoring up her self-worth by seducing one of the other eligible bachelors in attendance—sweetly boring Newfie Nice Guy Glenn Marshall (Darryl Hopkins) or Frank Harvey (Craig Francis Power), the greasy New Age Xennial divorcee who speaks entirely in Gen Z slang. As the night wears on and the party keeps going Eleanor spirals out into drunken despondency before a final bathroom rally with her best friend and guardian angel Sadie (Meghan Greeley) helps her find—or create—some grace for herself in the sobering morning sunlight. You will never be abandoned once you stop abandoning yourself.

Grace makes deft work of a single set, telling the story through flashbacks woven seamlessly against the backdrop of a garden wedding, the dancing as frozen or frenzied as Eleanor’s own inner turmoil. The choreography, tastefully soundtracked by a playlist of New Wave wedding bangers, subtly but splendidly frames the experience of coming undone under the influence of too much booze and inchoate self-loathing—particularly the quartet of wobbling bathroom mirrors in the penultimate scene. The subject matter gets heavy and heated without ever feeling sweltering thanks to a liberal leavening of hysterical gallows humour. You don’t need to have experienced soul-destroying marital discord in the wings of a friend’s wedding reception for all the jokes to land, but it helps.

Marriage as the goal and method of human happiness is so ubiquitous and unquestioned that we lose appreciation for the fact that lifelong exclusive sexual and romantic commitment to one person is a radical proposition. But so too are all the possible alternatives to being in an intimate relationship with others. Any relationship structure, no matter how traditional or avant garde, is as likely to produce bottomless misery as it is peace and flourishing; these outcomes are separated only by the self-awareness, courage, honesty, and—yes—grace of the people involved. Grace reminds us that there is no finer setting than a wedding to marvel at the triumph and terror of the human heart in either its monogamous or non-monogamous tethering—and no better playwright than Megan Gail Coles, Newfoundland’s finest contemporary writer on the heartache and hope involved in Love’s Work, to gently but firmly crack open that heart’s hard spiked shell to show us the delicate flesh inside.

Go see this play—preferably with your partner(s).

Drew Brown is a writer from Grand Falls-Windsor. He was Editor-in-Chief of The Independent between 2019 and 2023 and holds most of a PhD in psychoanalytic political theory. He is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology and working on his first novel. He lives in St. John’s with two black cats.