Before I begin this review, I should note that I am an incredibly biased source of information, because the lead actor is my little sister. Nevertheless, I am not someone who is driven to tears over fiction easily. This is something that has changed over time; when I was younger I used to cry over fiction all the time. However, as time has gone on, it has become less and less common. I still cry from time to time, but usually it’s about something happening in my actual life. Why bring up these personal details? Because The Book of Esther by Leanna Brodie and directed by Clinton Walker made me cry. It is the first play to ever do this to me, including Little One and the Cripple of Inishmaan. This one not only brought tears to my eyes, but did it three times.
The play follows the story of Esther, a Christian farm girl who runs away from home, and finds shelter with a flamboyantly gay man named Todd and a young rebel named A.D. She soon finds that there is a connection between her parents and Todd.
The writing in the play is absolutely fantastic. The dialogue can be hilarious one moment, shocking the next, heartbreaking after that, and then all three at the same time. Another thing that makes the play brilliant is how it discusses a number of issues regarding religion and sexuality and yet manages to do this without dehumanizing any particular side of the issues. It is clear that Brodie agrees with some characters and not others, but no character is a straw man and no one is wholly negative. It would have been very easy to make Esther’s heavily religious mother Anthea into an outright villain, but the play is far too intelligently-written to go down this easy road and gives each character sympathy and good arguments. Despite her open homophobia and her rather fanatical view of Christianity, Anthea is a very welcoming hostess and clearly loves her family.
The acting in this play is uniformly excellent. Santana Berryman’s performance as Esther is particularly impressive. She does a great job of playing a farm girl unused to the big city life. One of the most impressive elements to her performance is how expressive her face is. Her character is in a time in her life were her emotions run especially high and her face perfectly frames each emotion drawing the audience in. The character of Esther is very interesting in general. She is one of the only characters who really finds a balance between the two ways of life around her. She likes things about both the country and the city, although she likes the city more. The way the character slowly changes and becomes more open is wonderful to behold and Berryman does a great job of portraying this arc. Stephen Dunbar-Edge does a fantastic job playing Todd. The character of Todd is very comical in many ways but also very important to the story. He plays the role of a mentor and father figure to Esther. Dunbar-Edge does a great job of both showing the very entertaining nature of the character, in his deadpan moments and his over-the-top moments, but also manages to convey the fatherly and protective nature of the character. Colin Milne does a great job portraying the energetic and scrappy nature of his character. He has boundless energy in this role and does a great job of portraying how the character, despite being very wild, always has his heart in the right place. Dave Paquet does a fantastic job portraying Seth, Esther’s father. His character is clearly not necessarily the most intelligent person around and is very quiet, but Paquet does a wonderful job of portraying the characters’ love for his family and his desperation as he feels his world crumble around him. Despite the fact that his character isn’t intelligent, there’s a certain wisdom to him and Paquet does a great job of conveying this. Finally, Rosie Stuckless gives an absolutely phenomenal performance as Esther’s mother Anthea. It would have been easy to have an over-the-top performance that would make the character ridiculous. However, instead Stuckless gives a beautifully subtle performance with elements of tragedy. Anthea truly loves her daughter but she is terrible at expressing this.
The book of Esther is a beautiful, well-acted and directed play that is simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming. Go see it!