Saturday, 13 October 2018

Krapp's Last Tape lingers in its look-back of melancholy
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights : “Life is comic to those who think, and tragic to those who feel.” So said 18th century British writer Horatio Walpole. And no more loyal acolyte of this litany than Irish poet / playwright Samuel Beckett, an agnostic lapsed-Lutheran. His Krapp’s Last Tape is currently on show at Tyrant Studios on Seymour. 

Written when he was 52, the time was 1958 at the height of theatre of the absurd in Europe. “A late evening in the future” Beckett described his one-man scenes to come. Further, he pretty well predicts in KLT the soulless heart of social media in the 21st century -- hits replace sincerity. Words chase words chase words. Meaning is elusive. 

What we get on stage is a chronic constipated alcoholic named, glibly, Krapp. Since a 20-something, on each and every birthday Krapp has made a recording on a Tandberg 3BF. Each spool tells of his last year’s dreams, hopes and aspirations. Krapp is now 69. He reflects on the tape made when he was 39 in which he is heard reacting to a tape made in his late 20’s. The entire exercise is vintage Walpole. And then some.

Linden Banks as Mr. Krapp loves a couple of things over time : bananas to relieve his constipation, and a tape recorder on his birthday to set down a record of his reflections on the year past. 
Photo credit : David Thomas Newham
What the show brings to the stage : Beckett's worldview is pure duality : Light / dark. Heart / head. Body / soul. Reconciling them was a fateful futility for Krapp. No danger whatever he would achieve Buddha's existential challenge : “Better to conquer yourself than to win 1,000 battles.” 

Lifelong consumption of-&-by booze. Six hours of pub time per diem Krapp tells us, not to mention countless quaffs at home the audience hears him swill off-stage. Bananas — up to 4-a-day — striving both for lax bowels and a relaxed spirit. Limp sex limply remembered. “I said again I thought it was hopeless and no good going on and she agreed, without opening her eyes.” 

Depression : “The dark I have always sought to keep under is…reality.” The dawning insight an 8th decade invites : “Everything there, everything on this old muckball, all the light and dark and famine and feasting of the ages! Yes! Let that go! Jesus!"

Production values that shine through : David Thomas Newham's minimalist set of white table with black tape-spool boxes matches Krapp's white rumpled shirt and hi-tops against his black vest and well-lived-in gabardine slacks.

For his part, sound designer Daniel Deorksen chose Tom Wait's 1st album "Lonely eyes" chart as a book-end thematically to Krapp's closing sob over the girl in the rowboat who rejected his gropy advances when he was a sprouting youth. Nice bit.

Acting pin-spot : As Krapp, B.C. veteran Linden Banks wrings every ounce of pathos imaginable from this script that might rightly be subtitled "The last lament of an aging lothario".

He does a droopy banana schtick where it hangs, peeled, out of his mouth for a good minute or so. Twice. I was reminded of the anecdote about Sigmund Freud who told his underclass about the Cuban he sucked on mercilessly : "Oh, and it's also a cigar...!" he quipped. 

Mr. Banks' stage business -- agitated hands, fists-&-feet, and gnarly voice -plus- his cradling and cuddling of the tape recorder -- was superb. Quite the contrast to the chipper 39-year-old Krapp we hear and imagine from Banks' recording onto Spool 5 from Box 3.

Who gonna like : Too bad Beckett didn't see fit to end his play with Krapp's nearly final gutterance into the tape machine's mic : "Be again! Leave it at that. Be again !" instead of the 30-years-back reprise of "Perhaps my best years are gone. When there was a chance of happiness." Bathos, that.

Fact is this is Beckett self-indulgence writ large -- solipsism to a fault. For drama fans who think a neurotic man's late-life self-reflections are a worthy watch, this production is pretty close to ideal : its lengthy pauses alone are worth their silence in delight. I was completely smitten. 

No question, 7 Tyrants gives this script a proud and boisterous and chewy hour that absurdist fans will surely embrace. They, like me, will leave sadly happy from their experience.

Particulars : Script by Samuel Beckett.  Produced by Seven Tyrants Theatre.  At the Tyrants Studio stage, top floor, The Penthouse Club on Seymour @ Nelson. On until October 26, 2018.  Run-time 60 minutes, no intermission.  Tickets & schedule information @ Tyrants

Production team :  Director David Thomas Newham.  Lighting & set Designer David Thomas Newham.  Sound Designer Daniel Deorksen.  Stage Manager Susan D. Currie. Properties & Costumes David Thomas Newham.  Publicist Marnie Wilson.  Front of House Manager Cobra Ramone.

Seven Tyrants extends Very Special Thanks to :

Danny Filippone and the Filippone family
The Historic Penthouse Nightclub
Ines Orner
Gwen Roberts
Amanda Ryan


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Sunday, 30 September 2018

 Piano Teacher = grief + release through music
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

Ed. note : For those who may have missed the ACT On Tour schedule of Piano Teacher that this week commences its B.C. chatauqua at Capilano College on Thursday, its schedule for friends & family in those cities is noted for readers to alert them. And for those who may have missed the 2017 BLR review, an amended version is appended to the schedule. 

Arts Club 2018 On Tour Schedule of Piano Teacher

NORTH VANCOUVER
October 4 / Thursday

WEST VANCOUVER
October 5 &6 / Friday-Saturday

SURREY
Surrey Arts Centre
October 10-20 / Wednesday - Saturday
Tickets

MISSION
October 21 / Sunday

COQUITLAM
October 23-27 / Tuesday - Saturday

NEW WESTMINSTER
October 30 / Tuesday

CHILLIWACK
November 1 / Thursday

MAPLE RIDGE
November 2 / Friday

BURNABY
November 3 & 4 / Saturday & Sunday

VERNON
Vernon & District Performing Arts Centre
November 6 / Tuesday

From the footlights : Some say there are but two emotions, love & fear. Others claim three fundamental moods rule us : mad, sad, glad. But that at any moment we choose which one. Grief is "sad", for sure. And clearly it has elements of both love and fear that inform it. 

The extent to which we can choose our way out of grief   or not  lies at the heart of The Piano Teacher by Dorothy Dittrich now On Tour at the above 10 cities & venues.  (N.B. Its 2017 ACT production scored it a Jessie Richardson Award for Outstanding Original Script.) 

2017 Director Yvette Nolan described the show thus : "Dorothy's characters grapple with loss and grief, as we all do. They wonder why, and then they stumble forward, they catch each other when one threatens to tumble. And through it all they are buoyed by, yearning for, uplifted by, art. The piano, music, the very act of creation, is the antidote to grief, the answer to and the expression of loss."

Robert Frost's 1915 poem perhaps said it most clearly by reminding us that "The best way out is always through."

Striving mother / widow Erin (Megan Leitch) tries to get her life rhythm back with the help of her piano teacher Elaine (Catriona Murphy). The effort strikes notes and chords not always harmonic.
Photo credit : David Cooper
What the show brings to the stage : Further to the mad / sad/ glad observation above, fact is some folks enjoy a surfeit of joie de vivre. Others suffer a malaise I have termed mal de vivre  melancholy, the blues, a vague but persistent angst.

Two of this play's three characters are stuck, in their own way, in the latter category. The bereaved and grieving widow / mother Erin (Megan Leitch) is openly in the grip of her pain-&-loss : she doesn't even crack a smile until 10 minutes into Act 2 of this 90-minute show. 

Her instructor life coach, guru, piano-bench therapist -- Elaine (Caitriona Murphy) is also emotionally crippled a wee bit despite her liberating effect on Erin. 

Boyfriend Tom (Kamyar Pazandeh), meanwhile, is front-&-centre in the joie camp and offers the show the slight snigger of comic relief it sorely needs.

Production values that shine : Set designer David Roberts comes in for particular mention and kudos right up front. The 2017 show was the first time the 1st Avenue stage was arranged runway style. It proved very effective. 

The set is spare and minimalist and representative, anchored mid-stage by the baby grand piano that is the centrepiece of the plot, lit.-&-fig. A landing downstage right provides a place for up-close-&-personal exchanges between the characters. 

Some barely visible strings  20 of them  descended from ceiling to floor in the BMO set's living room area. They were arranged syncopatically to represent the random threads and strings, piano and otherwise, that intersect the play's characters and their musical lives.

Sometimes talking grief through & through is indeed the "best way out". Soon the casual exchanges between Tom and Erin will lead to more intimate involvement. 
Photo credit : David Cooper
Acting pin-spots : A particularly nuanced performance by Caitriona Murphy as the arthritic piano teacher Elaine. She pines for the performer life she left behind when the stiffening in her joints set in at a young age. She observes, repeatedly, that Canadian jazz great Oscar Peterson gnarled with arthritis his whole career. Still, she fights back in her own way, describing both musical and human dramatics  : "We live in patterns, consciously or unconsciously. And we are always creating new patterns," she says, "new stories, new rituals that give us new shape and form : how would we ever hold ourselves together if we didn't?"

When she finally gets Erin to join her in a duet arrangement of Aaron Copland's "Saturday Night Waltz" from his iconic piece Rodeo, she declares : "I can't imagine better proof of God than music -- the invisible, the ephemeral...". 

Who gonna like : Faithful readers of BLR know how fond this reviewer is of intimate small-space black-box theatre. The staging of The Piano Teacher physically as well as its casting and its blocking and the actors' crisp execution of their roles all contribute to a rich evening theatrically and thematically. The nearly-full-house opening night gave the group a gusty and heartfelt and deserved standing-o

Particulars :  Produced by The Arts Club in 2017 as its 11th Silver Commission. Performed at the BMO Theatre Centre in 2017.  On Tour as noted supra.  Run-time two hours including one Intermission.  Tickets & schedule information via phone at the individual venues or by visiting Arts Club.

2018 On Tour Production crew :  Co-Directors Scott Bellis & Rachel Ditor. [2017 original Director Yvette Nolan].  Dramaturg Rachel Ditor.  Set Designer David Roberts.  Costume Designer Jenifer Darbellay.  Tour Lighting Designer Ted Roberts [2017 original Lighting Designer Kyla Gardiner].  Sound Designer Patrick Pennefather.  Stage Manager Sandra Drag.  Apprentice Stage Manager Becca Jorgensen. 

Performers : Megan Leitch (Erin).  Caitriona Murphy (Elaine).  Kamyar Pazandeh (Tom).

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Saturday, 29 September 2018

Les Belles-soeurs retells 60's East Montreal tales of women's woes
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights :  CAPESGL. That's a homegrown acronym for life's seven deadly sins. Covetousness. Anger. Pride. Envy. Sloth. Greed. Lust. Each and every one of them is on display by the 15-woman cast in Ruby Slippers Theatre's 50th anniversary production of Quebec bad-boy Michael Tremblay's Les Belles-soeurs (tr. "the beautiful sisters"). 


The original was set in Tremblay's East Montreal : a cultural ghetto borne of the Catholic church, male patriarchal suppression, working class deprivations of all sorts. Quebec's women, particularly, were starting to "rage against the machine" with all its grimy, soul-grinding gears. As Tremblay puts it : "One woman complaining is pitiful. Five women saying they are unhappy with their lives at the same time is the beginning of a revolution."

Winning 1,000,000 Gold Star retail stamps throws Germaine Lauzon (France Perras) into a frenzy of joy that will bring out the worst in family & friends who come to "celebrate" her good fortune.
Photo credit : Tim Matheson

The set up : Germaine (France Perras) has just won a million Gold Star stamps that Quebec retailers used to give out in the 60's with each purchase. She's ecstatic. But they all have to be stuck in clutchbooks before she can trade them and fill up her house with the swack of stuff she slavers over from appliances to furniture to knick-knacks. So she invites a dozen friends and family to a party to load up the sticker books : that's when CAPESGL breaks out all over her kitchen.

Reason? Her friends' envy brings out all the bitterness, resentment and ill-will their ghetto lives have wrought. Soon they are stuffing their pockets with Germaine's precious stamps by the fistful. But no question their ill-will is designed by M. Tremblay to derive more from sardonic comedy than tragedy.

How the director sees her show :  "Incendiary" is a term Director Diane Brown uses -- and countless others have also applied -- to the script : inflammatory and provocative and a wee bit subversive. The women rail on. They screech and taunt one another as if bragging rights derive from who can come up with the best put-down of whom. Still they do so largely from smart-ass whim, only occasionally is anyone downright serious.

The schmancy wedding Yvette (Melissa Oei) put on for her daughter but didn't invite any of her fellow stamp-lickers to. Lisette (Sarah Rodgers) who is spitefully nouveau riche. Rose (Beatrice Zeilinger) spits out how she survives, barely, in a marriage with a drooling 365 sex maniac. 

Marie-Ange (Lucia Frangione) hisses how much more worthy of the stamp windfall she is than Germaine : "I never have any pleasure, someone always ruins it for me. You wouldn't catch me having luck like that -- fat chance! The ones with all the luck least deserve it." 

The puritanical but gossipy Rhealina (Patti Allan) who can't seem to forgive her pal of 35 years Angeline (Kerry Sandomirsky) when Angeline, no angel, reveals she steals away for the odd schnizzle and two hours of random giggly yak at a local pub once-a-week.


Stamp-envy and contempt are written all over the face of Marie-Ange (Lucia Frangione) as neighbour Des-Nieges (Eileen Barrett) looks on quizzically while Germaine (France Perras) tries vainly to get them to get a buzz off her windfall.
Photo credit : Tim Matheson
Brown calls the play "a powerful illustration of our envy economy" : a tale of "how status is gained and maintained within the tribe : everything is a competition, even who is most unhappy." Set during Quebec's so-called Quiet Revolution, the script is a male's cut at what sparked the candles of feminism and secular, anti-religious fervour in Canada's largest province back in the day. 

Production values and acting pinspots : Drew Facey's drab pedestrian kitchen with its giant (prison?) walls and stackable wood-frame tables is just the right launch-point for the Greek-chorus laments sung out by these wives and moms who are plain tuckered out : "Stupid rotten luck, stupid rotten luck, they eat like pigs, they wreck the house, then they leave. Suppertime comes, we all fight, but at night we watch t.v. I'm fed up with this stupid rotten life!" they chime together five times or more while performing housewifely calisthenics on the kitchen chairs that, like them, are all strung out downstage. Near the show's end their "Ode to Bingo!" chorus was simply stupendous : the "B-14" refrain shall live on giggling and tickling in my brain for some time to come.

But not just choruses for Tremblay in this didactic and hortatory expose of 60's joual Quebecois. Also a string of soliloquies that were each and all touching and cleverly spotlighted and coloured by John Webber's deft hand on the rheostat. Melissa Oei's peppery rhyme-off of each and every person's name at a recent party that went on for a minute or more got well-deserved cheers and claps.

In the end this is a script whose sum of its parts is better than the whole. The play lacks a plot with a dramatic arc of any real significance. But no question the bitchy interplay between the characters -- most notably between Germaine and her snotty daughter Linda (Pippa Mackie), but also among the neighbours -- offer up priceless takeaway moments. 

Also not to overlook the slo-mo chiaroscuro pantomime of all the women trying to wrestle away each other's purses at the end -- jammed as they all are with the Gold Star books each and every one of them has stolen -- this was clever choreography and skilled dramatic design for sure. 

Who gonna like : For a slice-of-life look at the oppressive blue collar social milieux faced in the 60's in faraway Quebec by its women -- limned with humour to masque all their pent-up anger -- Les Belles-sours is a show for lovers of character(s). 

This passel of women whose peccadilloes and grievances and profanities are magnified and distorted as if through a prism by Michael Tremblay indeed make precisely the statement he intended 50 years back. Ruby Slippers pulls off what Tremblay wanted with panache and delight and relevance given such reactionary times as these the world is having to put up with.

Particulars :  Produced by Ruby Slippers Theatre, Diane Brown, Artistic Director. On at Richmond's Gateway Theatre in Minoru Park next to RGH. Runs until October 6, 2018. Tickets & schedule information by phoning Gateway at 604.270.1812 or on-line @  www.gatewaytheatre.com. Show-time 135 minutes, one intermission.

Production teamDirector Diane Brown.  Set Designer Drew Facey.  Costume Designer Ellen Gu.  Sound Designer Mishelle Cuttler.  Lighting Designer John Webber.  Movement Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg. Assistant Director Mikayla Wust. Technical Director Jeff Harrison. Stage Manager Lois Dawson. Assistant Stage Manager Liz King. 

Performers :  Patti Allan (Rheauna Bibeau). Daria Banu (Ginette Menard). Eileen Barrett (Des-Nieges Verrette).  Lucia Frangione (Marie-Ange Brouillette).  Emilie Leclerc (Pierette Guerin).  Pippa Mackie (Linda Lauzon).  Melissa Oei (Yvette Longpre).  France Perras (Germaine Lauzon).  Sarah May Redmonbd (Therese Dubuc).  Sarah Rodgers (Lisette De Courval).  Kerry Sandomirsky (Angeline Sauve).  Ariel Slack (Olvine Dubuc). Agnes Tong (Lise Paquette). Tallulah Winkelman (Gabrielle Jodoin).  Beatrice Zeilinger (Rose Ouimet). 

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Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Mustard is fantasy fun where teen angst & family crash 
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights :  This Mustard isn't hot dog goop. Even better. He's a he — the lifelong phantasy friend of an angry messed-up 16-year-old desperate to grow up named Thai. Mustard lives under her bed. When she's not threatening to punch real people in the face or bite their noses, Thai talks to Mustard for counsel and he yaps back. 

Goofy? Maybe. But who hasn't had the odd imaginary friend? The fun in indie theatre whizkid Kat Sandler's script is that Thai's mom Sadie soon starts to see him, too. Maybe it's the booze and pills she pounds back trying to get over her depression at being ditched a year back by Thai's dad. At first she's half unglued by Mustard, then a bit bewitched and finally slightly smitten.


Mustard (Andrew McNee) tries to help out teenager Thai (Heidi Damayo) navigate the turbulent waters of teen-agerdom now that Dad has abandoned the family, mom's become a booze-&-pills binger, and there's a college frat-boy noodling his way into her life. 
Photo credit : Mark Halliday

Coming-of-age whimsy meets fractured family gestalt meets metaphysics : as Sandler put it theatromania.ca's Lauren Gillett 30 months back, "When ideas that make up our childhood memories go away, where do they go, and are they gone forever? What would happen if they started appearing to other people? What would happen if they didn't want to go away?" 

Known as spectacular fiction, Sandler's genre wanders into supernatural and epistemlogical realms where serendipity goes random and rogue. Are phantasy friends fake news or perhaps altogether more? How to factor in Mustard's "boon-goons" — fellow wizards  who are out to muscle him away from Mother Earth back to their nether world known as "boon swallows". But then there's also Thai's flesh-&-blood college boy-toy Jay with the usual boy-toy urgings. Lots of dramatic tension in all this mix for sure.




The two "boon-goons" trying to muscle Mustard back to their netherworld enclave, Leslie (Shekhar Paleja) and Bug (Brett Harris) conjure CIA-like tortures to snag their quarry.
Photo credit : Mark Halliday
Production hi-lites and acting pin-spots :  This show is ACT Artistic Director Ashlie Corcoran's third go at Sandler's script. She first directed it in 2016 for Toronto's Tarragon Theatre, then mounted a re-do there in January of 2018. (The original production won Toronto theatre's Dora Award for Outstanding New Play.) This time she doesn't direct it but is its sponsor as ACT Artistic Director. Stephen Drover, ACT's Associate AD directs this 2nd-only Canada production. In announcing it for ACT, Corcoran termed Sandler's schtick as "irreverent, exciting, dark, funny, weird and full of heart". 

On the production side of the ledger, Kevin McAllister's richly appointed townhouse digs were perfectly drafted, balanced, and sustaining throughout for some standout actors in their roles.  


Without an iota of hesitation, I say Andrew McNee's Mustard is the most compleat and nuanced and penetrating comic piece I have witnessed on Vancouver stages in BLR's 6 1/2 year run. Take your pick : Mustard the phantasy god is Jungian dream individuation or a modern Grimm fairy tale or just existential angst run riot or all of the above. 

Regardless, his turns with Thai (Heidi Damayo)  popping out from under her bed like a manic dust bunny harlequin  were choice. And his impish sexy turns with Mom Sadie (Jenny Wasko-Paterson) as the plot thickens were a mix of anxiety, pain, wonder and giggles. 

A hearty Welcome! to Ms. Damayo in this her debut ACT role after an award-studded baccalaureate career at UBC. One needn't have been a dad of two teen daughters 25 years apart to appreciate her impetuosity and disquiet and violent outbursts, but it helps.

Fact is Dad may be gone, but so is Mom. Not just from the often-predictable tensions that come with the mother \ daughter teen turf, but also because Mom is adrift in her Rx's and XXX fogs and a general self-pitying jag that Wasko-Paterson hones sharply.

No question, to this eye Sandler's "evil twins" Leslie and Bug may not have been 100% necessary in the plot. Structurally, the phantom Mustard's disappearance at play's end  the death of Thai's invisible friend  could have been managed dramatically on its own self-obvious terms. That said, Brett Harris's Bug was a delicious bit of steam punk idiosyncracy.

Who gonna like : Ashlie Corcoran nailed it: "irreverent, exciting, dark, funny, weird and full of heart".

Growing up has its real moments of joy and nightmare. Whether one is a teen or a 40-something facing divorce. Youngsters may have invisible friends, and hurting adults may hug their pillows for ersatz comfort and companionship. 


For 90 minutes of exhausting exhilaration watching the three main characters sort out what is "real" between them is jollity and zest with delicious twinges of sentiment, too. 

This is a wholly embracing and unique night out, a witty and touching "our town" turn like none you've ever had the pleasure to witness before.

Particulars : Co-produced by the Arts Club Theatre -and- Belfry Theatre, Victoria. On at ACT's Granville Island stage. Runs until October 20, 2018. Tickets & schedule information by phone at 604.687.1644 or www.artsclub.com. Show-time 90 minutes, no intermission.

Production teamDirector Stephen Drover.  Set Designer Kevin McAllister.  Costume Designer Carmen Alatorre.  Sound Designer Brian Linds.  Lighting Designer Alan Brodie.  Assistant Lighting Designer Ranleigh Starling.  Stage Manager Jan Hodgson. Assistant Stage Manager Yvonne Yip. 


Performers :  Heidi Damayo (Thai). Brett Harris (Bug). Andrew McNee (Mustard).  Chirag Naik (Jay).  Shekhar Paleja (Leslie).  Jenny Wasko-Paterson (Sadie).

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Friday, 21 September 2018

Marion Bridge : wit & love capture family pathos
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights Concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl once famously observed : “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.” And that is precisely the underpinning of Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor’s award-winning script Marion Bridge. 
Sisters Louise (Beatrice Zeilinger), Agnes (Lynda Boyd) and Theresa (Nicki Cavendish) find Marion Bridge, Cape Breton Island a fitting gathering spot to scatter family memories.
Photo credit : Kay Meek Theatre website.
Three grown-up sisters all gather at the family home in Sydney, N.S. because Mother is dying. Each sibling struggles with guru Adyashanti’s challenge : “No more battle with yourself. No more battle with life. No more battle with others. No more battle with God.” For most of MacIvor’s script, all three fail the challenge miserably : each leads a life of quiet desperation — with themselves, with one another, with both history and future. Such seem to be their life choices.

How it’s all put together : Middle sister Agnes (Lynda Boyd) escaped Cape Breton Island for Toronto to pursue the twin enticements of acting and alcohol. She is considerably more ept at the latter than the former. The daughter she adopted out as a teen mom lurks over the near horizon. Eldest sister Theresa (Nicki Cavendish) accepted Jesus as her personal saviour twenty years back but now doubts — she seeks reassurance he has the same saving grace as her beloved nunnery farmland in New Brunswick that she tills religiously. Youngest sister Louise (Beatrice Zeilinger) is a t.v. soap opera addict somewhere along the autism spectrum who longs to dream her own dreams and struggles to live in real time.


There is little fun, sport & amusement afoot when the three sniping sisters swap life tales and monologue their anxieties while mom dies, alone, upstairs in the family home.
Photo credit : David Cooper.
Such angst as this might easily bore the bejesus out of many who witness it being acted out. There but for, of course, the patented MacIvor wit and irony and dialogue by-play that single kids can only imagine but viewers from big families know intimately. No surprise Leo Tolstoy’s opening kicker to Anna Karenina pops into mind instantly : “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own fashion.”

What the show brings to the stage : MacIvor wrote both the stage play script and a screen version simultaneously. He enjoyed toying with their opposite qualities : how celluloid manipulates its audiences through camera angle and focus plus the twin colours of landscape and soundtrack. Versus live theatre that depends on dialogue to drive home its dramatic purpose and theme. (The play was nominated for a Governor General’s award. The movie won Best Canadian First Feature Film in 2002 @ TIFF.)

Director Roy Surette picked Tiko Kerr to design the simple homespun living room set where all the action — words chasing and tripping over one another — takes place. Each sister has lengthy monologues : Agnes about a drowning dream that has regular re-runs in her addled brain. Theresa’s holy communion with the land : “Farming is wonderful : getting your hands down there in the beautiful dirt. When you’re working it up to your elbow it starts to feel like liquid, think dark liquid, like the blood of the earth.” 


As eldest, Sister Theresa the nun -- a doubting Catholic dirt-farmer and chief caregiver to Mom during her deathbed vigil -- Nicki Cavendish has declared that Marion Bridge might well be her last hurrah on Canadian stages so she can spend more time flinging dirt in her home garden out in the Fraser Valley. Vancouver audiences pray that she -- like Saul on the road to Damascus -- will undergo a profound conversion moment. 
Photo credit : David Cooper.
Louise, for her part, finally breaks out of her t.v. phantasy world and buys a truck she now tootles around in : “(Most people are) not really driving, they’re really just trying to get somewhere. So you shouldn’t have a place in your head. Maybe you shouldn’t even know where you’re going. You’ll only know where it is when you get there. That would be best.”

Only when these alienated but ever-loving sisters travel from Sydney to Marion Bridge in Cape Breton do they — “Trite symbol warning!” — discover how to bridge the various gaps between themselves. 

Their memories of a feckless but mostly well-meaning mom who was a solitary tippler hiding behind stacks of books whose pages she never turned; an abusive and spiteful dad who ran off with a "hottie"; their current vigil for their mother who has decided she wants to die alone : mute from larynx cancer, she communicates through post-it notes adorned with a “a bunch of marks and squiggles”. 


At Marion Bridge 14 miles from home her brood of daughters now blithely toss the collected post-its to the heavens — forgiveness confetti celebrating how she lived life on her own terms. 

Production values that enhance the script : Tiko Kerr's set highlights "perception through abstraction" featuring asymmetrical trapezoids adorned with nature flourishes, an effort he terms an "opportunity to play". Offset by a musty farmhouse kitchen set and a solitary barcalounger for the t.v. pit, it allows the audience to focus on the actors and MacIvor's gatling gun dialogue they spit out. 

The plot is almost trite — even daughter Joanie who Agnes was forced by the Catholic hospital to give up for adoption winds up, like her mom, pregnant and abandoned as a teen. 

Yet the truths behind MacIvor's characters as sisters and adults — each choosing their own form of solitude as a coping mechanism — are not just touching but compelling. His use of monologues spoken directly to the audience work well indeed : "It's strange for me to be standing here talking to you, and some people would think it's strange for you to be sitting there listening to me," Louise declares as designer Michael K. Hewitt's spotlight snaps off. Nice.

Acting pin-spots : If this is Nicki Cavendish's swan song, she ends a remarkable career with yet again! another! utterly astonishing! turn of character-acting. As the tut-tutty spinster nun eldest sister, she reveals increasingly no end of suppressed twinkle and irony bursting from her soul during her onset of being woke : "If God is God he is not good / If God is good he is not God".

But this, truly, is just remarkable casting all 'round. Lynda Boyd, new to this viewer, possesses nuances of drunk delivery seldom better portrayed anywhere. Her dim mornings and mournings embrace the heart. As Louise, Beatrice Zeilinger's fixation on the t.v. characters Kara and Justin from the t.v. show "Ryan's Cove" and her spinnerama description of its melodramatic plot were choice, choice acting bits. Brava! to both. 

Who gonna like : Unless the show gets re-mounted — as it well deserves to, cross-Canada I would hope — there are but two performances left to see this wonderful piece : at Genesis Theatre in Ladner on Saturday night and a final matinee on Sunday. Better ensemble acting would be hard to find or remember in Vancouver. 

And set aside all predispositions to query "appropriation of voice" given Daniel MacIvor wraps his talent over, under, around and through three women sisters. This is stunning drama stunningly portrayed and executed. Kudos! without reservation to all involved.

Particulars : 

Produced by Wing & Prayer Productions. Two final shows at Genesis Theatre, 5005 45th Avenue at Delta Secondary School, Ladner on Saturday, September 22nd @ 7:30 and Sunday, September 23rd @ 2:30 p.m. 

Production crew : Playwright Daniel MacIvor.  Director Roy surety.  Set Designer Tiko Kerr.  Scenic Painter Tracy-Lynn Chernaske.  Lighting Designer Michael K. Hewitt.  Stage Manager Rick Rinder.

Performers : Lynda Boyd (Agnes).  Nicola Cavendish (Theresa).  Beatrice Zeilinger (Louise).
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