The goal of staging The Valley, according to director Ann Hodges, is to open up a dialogue around issues of mental health, a significant goal when you consider that the Canadian Mental Health Association estimates that the total number of 12-19 year olds at risk for developing depression is 3.2 million and cites Canada’s youth suicide rate as the third highest in the industrial world.
Prairie Theatre Exchange’s, The Valley, written by Joan MacLeod, engages the audience in a conversation about mental health using an altercation between a police officer and a mentally unstable youth as its inciting incident, a poignant example given the number of police shootings in recent years. While the altercation itself is dramatic and the actions of the officer are questionable, MacLeod is less interested in pointing fingers and witch-hunting than in exploring the lives of the people involved and the effects of mental illness on them and those they love.
After the altercation with the officer at the train station, Connor (Toby Hughes) slips deeper into depression and spends all of his time locked up in his room. His mother Sharon (Nancy Sorel) is frustrated that she can’t help her son and in looking for meaning blames the officer for ruining her child. While it’s painfully obvious to the audience that Connor was slipping into depression long before the altercation, his mother seems to be in denial about it, perhaps believing she knew her son better than she did. It’s a powerful revelation that the strong, masculine archetype (exemplified by the officer) isn’t the only one in denial when it comes to mental illness. It’s an issue that is very uncomfortable for all those who suffer from it and those who love them.
In the majority of the scenes involving officer Dan (Alden Adair) he is out of his police uniform, at home with his wife (Elizabeth Stephensen) and newborn child. He is shown as more than just a gun and a badge as he attempts to navigate fatherhood while dealing with an emasculated identity over the fact that his wife is suffering from postpartum depression—emasculating because he sees himself as someone who can, supposedly, fix anything. Because he can’t comprehend her attitude towards their son he uses rhetoric and aggression in an attempt to force her will. His behaviour at home overlaps with his professional life as a police officer and reveals a glaring problem: police are not adequately trained to deal with mental illness.
The Valley’s strong message and strong performances confront the issues around mental health without judgment and without prejudice. The play is not reactionary. It is not a soapbox for the writer to rage against the police. Rather, it is a challenging piece of theatre that wants to remind us that behind every news story there are real people involved, that these people aren’t just one way, that being human means being both good and bad and that mental illness further complicates and thus requires a deeper empathy towards humanity.
Post by Josh Benoit & photos courtesy of PTE – Bruce Monk
Joshua Benoit is a freelance writer, musician with the local band, Pumas and videographer living in Winnipeg. He is passionate about food, philosophy, travel and Kurt Vonnegut. At one time he thought he wanted to be an optometrist but ultimately found more joy in words than in formulas, just as he derives more pleasure from whiskey than from soda.
His life goals are modest and include owning a dog with an aloof demeanor and a needy cat, publishing no less than eleven novels (some of them trash), and possibly raising children, though he’d settle for a weekly afterschool special in which he could impart his street-wise verbiage to the children of the world.
Joshua studied English and Film at the University of Manitoba and took his sweet time about getting his B.A. He now works for the Department of Education and is continuing his creative writing studies through the University of Toronto. To get in touch with Joshua, write to him at email@example.com