What do a cowboy stand-off, a medical check-up, and a backhanded yoga Youtube video all have in common?
They’re all in The Supine Cobbler.
Written by Jill Connell and directed by Emily Pearlman, the play follows five women as they recontextualize their lives and reconnect in an abortion clinic. But the show makes a clear point that it’s not about abortion — that’s just its setting. Instead it’s about The Cobbler (Maryse Fernendes), a straight-laced simple shoemaker facing some of her most important female relationships at a doctor’s appointment, alongside the hilarious and confused scene-stealer The Kid (Ellie Ellwand).
Fernendes plays The Cobbler with a subtle vibrancy; despite her cool exterior, she’s constantly bubbling with emotions inside. The story treats abortion as a simple medical procedure — which it is — but everything occurring in The Cobbler’s life is anything but simple. All of her family is dead, she learns that she’s mysteriously wanted for $500 (it’s not that much money), and she’s unsure of the direction she wants for her life. (Story of my life.)
The heart of the story lies in the intimacy of the play and relationships The Cobbler re-examines with the women of her past and present. Once the five women make their introductions, it felt like this actually could be a story from my life. Which is the point — you could be any or all of these women. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
The dynamics between The Cobbler and her sister, The Dancer (Tara J Paterson), reminded me of my own conversations with my younger sister, the brutal realities of being away from home but struggling to live up to the expectations of others. Paterson plays The Dancer with cynicism and poignancy, and her interactions with The Cobbler were some of my favourites.
There’s also a bittersweet reunion between The Cobbler and her best friend, the passionate, somewhat volatile (and fittingly named) Lover, played by the lively and charming Kelsey Rideout. According to The Cobbler, she left town years ago without a word. The circumstances surrounding The Lover’s disappearance are vague, but also concrete in a way that will make you accept it, even if you don’t understand: she had to go.
The Doctor (Deena Aziz) feels more like a mentor than an uncaring medical professional — the power of female doctors. Aziz is a pivotal guidance figure throughout the play, not only narrating an introduction of every character but also existing as someone who genuinely cares, which can feel rare while navigating the healthcare system.
I’m convinced The Kid is written for the 20-something crowd (i.e. me), with her childish timbre and tendency to speak faster than her thoughts. Although she’s an apprentice of The Cobbler, she has her own story that stands out yet interweaves itself through the lives of the other women. Despite being young, dumb, and broke, The Kid is just as much a woman struggling with what she wants and who she wants it from.
The Supine Cobbler is as introspective as it is funny, and my god, is it ever funny. From digs at the not-so-beloved OC Transpo system to revelations about friendships, I giggled at the contemporary references as much as I reflected on my own personal interactions with the world.
The play is strange, which is a loving compliment to Connell’s playwriting, but also entirely familiar; the space used feels endless, a testament to how malleable the play is under Pearlman’s direction. It is primarily set in an abortion clinic (the characters make a joke about being four hours early for the appointment) but sometimes — at the same time — in a camp outside, cooking corn. The weather (and by extension, set design by Julia Kim) adds a subtle layer of emotion to whatever is occurring in the current scene: strong winds during a disagreement and threatening rain when the characters must work together.
Musician and sound designer, Sage Reynolds, elevates the vivid atmosphere of the play as he plays at the side of the stage. The music was inquisitive yet logical, almost as if it was another character that graced the stage and spoke to the actors.
The Supine Cobbler made me feel vulnerable and raw, but not because of the depiction of abortion — because of the truths The Cobbler encounters while waiting for her procedure. At the beginning of the play, The Kid comments that the waiting is scary and that it goes on forever. Towards the end, I wish the play went on forever. I wish that the characters could continue to laugh and cry and bare their hearts out to each other and ask questions.
But The Cobbler has her appointment. And it’s straightforward, quick, and professional. And then she leaves, and life carries on.
It’s hard to emphasize how important it is for The Supine Cobbler to exist at a time like this in the capital city; Ottawa is a city of important decisions, after all, which makes some of the lines hit a little harder. It’s difficult to describe the amount of love, dedication, and vulnerability that went into this production — yet Pearlman did it boldly. You’ll leave this play feeling touched in ways you didn’t expect.
The Supine Cobbler runs at the Great Canadian Theatre Company in Ottawa until October 8. Tickets are available here.
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