The Girl in the Picture Tries to Hang Up the Phone should have worked. It had all the right ingredients: A one-man, autobiographical show, written and performed by 27-year stage veteran Hume Baugh. And the subject matter showed promise: a man tries to come to terms with the life and death of his alcoholic mother. Presented in conjunction with Zoofest, the new Montreal festival that promises an eclectic array of inexpensive performances running parallel to Just for Laughs, this performance left me wondering: What went wrong?
Maybe it was the tech people whispering in the back of the room so that the sparse audience couldn’t suspend disbelief (they remained quiet after being told they could be heard). Maybe it was the sparse audience itself, which included a member who decided to check her voice mail messages in the middle of the show. Maybe it was the clouds looming overhead prior to the show which had everyone feeling antsy before Baugh even took to the stage. It’s difficult to tell for certain. One thing is without question though: Baugh had a great idea which wasn’t given its due.
At the beginning of the play, Baugh presents us with two simple stage cues: A picture and a sound. The picture is one of his mother as a child. A little girl that he wishes he could speak to and get to know. “Does she know she’s beautiful?” he wonders out loud. We hear a sound at the beginning, whose significance is only revealed to us at the end. We also learn near the end of the play that Baugh is asking an insightful and universal question: How do any of us go from being the children we were to the people we’ve become? In this case, Baugh wants to know how his mother went from being a lovely little girl to an alcoholic older woman. What happened in that stretch of time? Unfortunately, we never really get to find out.
Baugh is a fine actor and storyteller – his talent is obvious. His pacing is good and he speaks with conviction. What hurts this play is its writing. It meanders between subjects without giving us a vivid picture of anything. We learn a bit about him and his family – a family that he claims would rather have a “laissez-faire” attitude towards each other’s problems. We learn about the difficulty of being the son of a feminist, the problems he has while grieving for his mother and how he has come to find his mother’s qualities within himself. The trouble lies in the fact that we do not find out all that much about his mother’s descent into addiction. Baugh makes his mother out to be such an interesting character that to leave the play without knowing what spurred her self-destructive behavior made it feel like something was amiss.
Heartfelt, honest and bittersweet, but just not compelling enough.
The Girl in the Picture Tries to Hang Up the Phone: Theatre Esquisse, 1650 Marie-Anne (at the corner of Marquette) , through July 19th at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 and available at the door or at Zoofest.