“Grandmothers will always die and their houses will always be pulled apart like meat from ribs.” So begins Meg Braem’s The Josephine Knot, a compelling play about a woman and her father settling Baba’s (her grandmother’s) estate upon her death. Various relatives have come to the grandmother’s house to lay claim on the belongings they wish to keep, before the rest of the objects in the house are either sold or thrown away. As the eldest son, David has taken charge of the proceedings, and coordinates the movements throughout the house with efficiency. His daughter Samantha is having a visibly harder time coming to terms with her Baba’s death, and hates the thought of her Baba’s belongings going to relatives who barely knew her and who wouldn’t value the objects in the way they deserve.
It’s a moving play, and made even more powerful because the play features only two actors, and the various relatives are played by the same actors who portray Samantha and David. I loved reading stage directions like “The actor playing DAVID shifts physically into playing BABS.” It drives home the point about how interconnected all these characters are, and I can imagine how much emotional nuance it adds to see the same actor depicting such a diverse range of emotions. In one of the latter scenes, the actor playing Samantha shifts into the role of Baba herself, in a conversation with David shortly before she dies. It’s a powerful scene in itself, but I love imagining how having the same actor play both roles blurs the lines between generations, and recalls the emotional tensions between David and both characters at the same time.
The play also shows some very real, visceral glimpses into what it’s like when someone dies. There’s a great scene where Samantha and her cousin Stephie are discussing a pair of plastic deer. Stephie wants them for the front yard of the house she and her fiance Robbie will move into when they get married; Samantha wants them because:
I played with them when I was little. I made us be very still so the hunter couldn’t see us. I love their glass eyes that glow orange. [p. 24]
The catch is that only one of the deer can fit into Samantha’s apartment, and Stephie convinces her they need to be taken as a set. Eventually, Samantha agrees to let Stephie take the deer and, in an aside, Stephie admits she plans to saw off the tops and plant begonias inside.
The Josephine Knot is a moving story about families, and the complex emotions that can arise after a family member dies. It’s compelling in print and I can imagine how moving it is when performed.
Thank you to Playwrights Canada Press for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.