Toronto Fringe: Drowning in a small town in the haunting, lyrical Mourning After the Night Before

by life with more cowbell


Mad River Theatre takes us to a small town by the water as a family struggles to overcome tragedy in Chloë Whitehorn’s haunting, lyrical Mourning After the Night Before; directed by Heather Keith and running at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse.

Lucy (Mary Wall), Drew (Dave Martin) and their teenage daughter Pippa (Brianna Richer) have just arrived in a small town by the water to start a new life, their move assisted by local residents Everett (Jack Morton) and his guardian Fenwick (Loriel Medynski). Pippa is a troubled poet, surrendering the dark contents of her creative, intelligent mind onto paper. Lucy is feeling out of place in her own skin; and Drew, who feels so far away, just wants everyone to be okay. Everett is smitten with Pippa—and Lucy—and the attractions are mutual; and Fenwick’s just trying to keep it together as her adopted son, a reminder of the friend she loved, is on his way to manhood.

Nice work from the cast in this quiet, intimate, ethereal piece where everyday moments float by like leaves on water. Richer’s restless, introspective wild child is nicely balanced by a playful, creative spirit. Wall’s Lucy is part caged animal, part cougar on the hunt as she grapples with her identity as wife and mother and finds herself lacking. Martin’s Drew avoids the stereotypical frustrated, estranged husband; Drew is a hurt, gentle soul who genuinely cares and wants to help, but finds himself at a loss to do so. Morton’s Everett is an endearing combination of lusty youth, optimism and kindness as he navigates his way through the early stages of manhood. And Medynski brings a gentle wisdom to the frank, no-nonsense Fenwick, who’s dealing with both a past loss (Everett’s mother) and an impending loss of her own (Everett growing up).

I first saw an early, shorter version of the play at Alumnae Theatre’s New Ideas Festival in 2018; and was happy to see its evolution. It combines everyday, intimate moments with poetry, and word play and introspection; woven with images and perspectives of water, the characters float around, dive into and drown in their lives as they grasp and gasp for connection, identity and meaning. The water almost becomes a sixth character here. And the minimalist set, incorporating black cubes to denote separate spaces in the story, places a focus on the words and characters as they glide in and out of moments, memories and musings. The result is a heightened realism that is both atmospheric and lyrical.

It is ironic that the family’s retreat to the peace and quiet of a small town forces a level of discomfiting introspection as each tries to anchor themselves within themselves and the world—a not so peaceful or quiet endeavour.


Mourning After the Night Before

Chloë Whitehorn. Gah! Her writing is so damn good. I fell in love with her talent when I saw her play Love, Virtually at the 2011 Fringe (OMG, has it been that long?) I love how she uses language and how she paints the struggles we have to communicate. So I was absolutely thrilled to get to see this show after missing it in New Ideas last year.

I find myself wrestling with what to say because they play unfolds beautifully with surprises and secrets revealed that I want people who see it to discover it on their own terms. I'd love to see it again now knowing how it ends to follow the bread crumbs. What I can talk about is the use of water as the theme, as both a physical place and as representing emotions. Drowning is the key here - drowning in loss, drowning in confusion, drowning in questions of value, drowning in the roles of parenting and growing up. The play has a lyrical quality to it, much like bobbing on a tranquil lake while everything happens underneath where you can't see. The image is referred to frequently but it never feels like you're beaten over the head with it. Well done, Chloë!


Mad River Theatre does the script justice. The cast is strong and handle the shifts beautifully. The play is built on brief moments and the staging (especially the lighting) starkly show the disconnection. I did find it a little disconcerting as one of the actors is a voice actor and his voice was so familiar to me that every time he spoke it pulled me out but that's on me, not him. I also appreciate how the company has a list of resources on their site about mental health for anyone who finds themselves triggered by the show, and that they made a point to mention it at the curtain call.

Overall, this is just a beautiful play wonderfully done. It's definitely worth seeing.



Mourning After the Night Before, produced by Mad River Theatre, was one of my top picks for the Toronto Fringe Festival. I was intrigued by its use of drowning as a metaphor in all the characters’ lives.


The production wholeheartedly delivers on its theme. Each character is drowning in some kind of grief. Everyone is suffering a loss. But on this stage, drowning means something different for everyone.

The script’s lexicon is saturated with water metaphors: a drop in the ocean, just on the surface, dive in. There are a few too many water puns for me, and I feel that this halts the flow of natural speech, but I appreciate the thematic consistency.

The lighting is minimalistic in the best way (lighting design by Brandon Gonçalves). The audience sits in almost total darkness while the only lights in the theatre shine directly onto the speakers.

Scenes float in the spotlight surrounded by murky blackness. Characters walk on and off stage like ghosts, delivering their lines to each other, to the audience, or sometimes to no one at all. The characters talk and talk to each other and about each other, but ultimately this is a play about their relationships to themselves.

The frequent monologues enforce the idea that the characters are more concerned with understanding their own lives than the lives of the people around them. Conversations between characters feel like a means to an end as everyone onstage turns inward.

Like the title suggests, time is difficult to keep track of. While the overall storyline is delivered chronologically, some scenes seem to be displaced in time. This is a deliberate choice. The audience is not meant to understand everything at once.

I really like how this keeps the audience feeling lost, but I wish it was a bit more polished. With no easily defined timeline and a lot of withheld information, some of the play was a little hard to follow.

As the plot goes on, the characters become more frantic and less coherent; lost in their mourning. Lucy (Mary Wall) and Drew (Dave Martin) really help steer the production into more cohesive waters with their passionate and steadfast performances.

I really appreciate that the actors directed the audience to websites for help and support at the end of the play, but a trigger warning at the beginning might have been more appropriate. The play ends quite abruptly, and I was left with too many questions, but overall I found the whole performance original, insightful, and moving.

This review is based on the Wednesday July 3rd preview performance of the production.


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