Arts & CultureCampus & City

Play Review: The Swearing Jar

Performed at the Walterdale Theatre, ‘The Swearing Jar’ navigates the intersection between love, loyalty, and heartbreak with soulfulness and sincerity.

When faced with an inescapable reality, even happiness can feel like a trap. In The Swearing Jar, directed by Ursula Pattloch, a young woman must learn to ride an emotional rollercoaster of love and loss. The play attempts to simultaneously embody both comedy and tragedy. In its quest to be both lighthearted and serious, it sometimes loses its direction. Despite this, it is easy to sympathize with the characters and get drawn into their struggles. They lay their souls bare.

The play’s non-linear timeline surprises the audience while driving home the heart-wrenching inevitability of tragedy. Meanwhile, human tidbits of laughter and joy sweeten the painful emotions.

Written by Kate Hewlett, the play centers around Carey (Lita Pater) as she shares the news of her pregnancy with her husband, Simon (Kingsley Leung). They create a swearing jar in order to curb their swearing habit before the baby comes. Unabashed joy and playful teasing characterize their relationship as one that is built on trust and closeness. Yet, as time goes on, faults begin to show — Simon has a secret, but so does Carey.

In a bookstore, Carey develops a blossoming relationship with Owen (Colin Stewart), which further develops after Simon’s death. Although I felt connected to Carey’s inner conflict, I struggled to pinpoint her true personality. The pacing seemed unbalanced and reactions were strangely fluid.

The play takes place in Vancouver in the 1990s, and meanders between three very different settings. All three make a balanced triangle on stage. In one corner, we see Carey and Simon’s cozy living room; in the other, we see the bookstore. Carey and Owen sing songs in memory of Simon at the front of the stage.

Set designer Joan Heys Hawkins succeeded in creating an authentic and lived-in set design. This is further uplifted by lighting designer Rebecca Cave’s atmospheric, emotive lighting.

There are constant jokes throughout the play. Although there is a clear intention to make the play funny and warm-hearted, the comedy feels somewhat forced. I suspect that this was primarily due to the style of acting. The characters consistently seemed to pivot and lean from one extreme to the other — anguished and pained at one moment, and giddy and awkward the next. At times, this significantly diminished the play’s believability.

At one point, Carey states that she feels “stuck.” Stuck is indeed what the play felt like during the second half of the play. I would have liked to have seen a greater evolution or gradual transformation in terms of acting and emphasis. Although plenty of moments were indeed immersive, the play eventually developed into a strange loop of torment and self-realization that felt out of touch with its target audience.

Bookstore scenes were usually accompanied by gentle, romantic music in the background. I found this music to be somewhat distracting. Rather than add to the atmosphere, it felt like overkill and bordered on cheesiness. However, Stewart’s singing was the highlight of the play. I can readily imagine hearing his voice on the radio, singing modern, bluesy pop songs. Similarly, Pater’s voice had a very musical, cheery quality.

Both actors demonstrated great control over their voices and looked right at home in front of microphones. When they sang together and overtop of each other, their talent truly shone and the choreography was flawless. They made it seem easy.

At the end of the day, I thought that Carey’s subtle glance over at Owen as he played the guitar was the most moving part of the play. All of her affection seemed to resonate from a single look — it was this look that ultimately convinced me that her feelings towards Owen would endure despite her persistent fear of betraying Simon. Simon would want Carey to be happy, and she can find happiness with Owen.

Overall, the play’s flow was intermittently broken by efforts to forcefully fit it into a romantic comedy mold. However, The Swearing Jar succeeds in painting an anguished picture of loss and the sometimes irrational decisions love drives a person to make. Excellent singing and a homey set design pull the audience into Carey’s world. When she mourns, we all mourn with her.

You can catch The Swearing Jar at the Walterdale Theatre until April 27.

Natalia Gala

Natalia is a first-year student majoring in conservation biology. Her favourite pastime is exploring other planets by writing dystopian science fiction. When not inventing alien civilizations, she’s learning languages or running.

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