Thursday, 15 March 2018

A Beautiful View looks fitfully for love
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 : The amphiboly "Nothing is enough!" is playwright Daniel MacIvor's attempt to run a wry joke between two women friends in his 65-minute two-hander A Beautiful View. Is nothing -- zero -- enough? Or, had we everything, would that still never be quite enough? 

His repeated play on these words underscores the simple complexities of a decade-plus relationship between Emme (Sandra Medeiros) and Elle (Melissa Oei) that started in their 20's : lots of fun, lots of fibs, lots of sex ambiguity, lots of love and pain and the whole damn thang. A first kiss, a tryst, a skip-&-skedaddle. And then back together "accidentally" again for more of whatever's to come next. 

Elle (Melissa Oei) and Emme (Sandra Medeiros) find nature gives them common footing until life's vagaries trip them up.
Photo credit : Angelo Renai

For an hour and a bit we hear all about the hiccups in their friendship though, oddly, they never refer to one another by name. A host of 20-20 hindsights rhymed off that hi-lite the giggles, the beers, the rock and roll, the camping they share. But mostly their words focus on the confusion and ambiguities and betrayals. The fears. Of bears in the woods and one another in the city : angst of equal measure. The seemingly reluctant reconciliations. As if each of them is trying, desperately, to find "a beautiful view" of themselves they can project, not unlike what weatherman Phil Connors' karmic trek was all about in Ground Hog Day. Just not as successfully.

What the show brings to the stage : MacIvor's script begs this question : can two people who once seduced one another when drunk be lifelong friends in spite of all the lies and hurts and misguided emotions they've shared along the way? Yes -- MacIvor contends rhetorically -- if we can just get past the labels people foist on each other. Does our making love mean we are, or are not, lesbians? Then what about the men we dallied with and/or married? How do those relationships also define us? Trouble with all this is that in 2018 these are no longer particularly vital questions given the more profound and nuanced concerns of 3rd wave feminism.

Founder of da da kamera theatre in Toronto, MacIvor won the 2006 Governor General's Award for Drama for a quintette of scripts that included A Beautiful View. The following year he dropped the curtain on da da kamera for good. He has stated in interviews that he wrote the play intentionally as da da's last show. Also, he hopes ABV is the one of some four dozen he's written so far (and counting...) that he wants the world to remember him for.

Performance pin-spots : There can be no question of the sincerity and energy Naked Goddess Productions have put into this play whose final Preview performance I attended tonight. The character notionally named "Elle" is played with warmth and irony and edge by Melissa Oei. Her counterpart "Emme" is played by NGP co-founder Sandra Medeiros. As scripted by Mr. MacIvor, her character is more stiff, linear and emotionally monochromatic. But Ms. Medeiros pulls from her character all that's there to work with.

Which leads to the question always to be asked of a performance : Does it work for you? as viewer. Despite the pedigree of both playwright and this celebrated show, ABV did not quite "work" for me. MacIvor's constant repetition of the "Nothing is enough!" line between the actors rubbed raw on the ears after it was recited two dozen times or so. 

And then for Elle to parse it -- to explain over and over again in her monologue what its dual meaning is all about -- this was as painful as it was obvious and unnecessary, a kind of dramatic sabotage. And his ending to the show? Utterly artificial and dissatisfying.

As for staging, two primary problems here. One is the 60 x 15 foot rectangle stage in the old church sanctuary of Kits Neighbourhood House. Too wide by half at least. ACT's late-great Granville Island Revue stage would have been perfect for this intimate show. 

The other is the blocking and stage direction by Director Tamara McCarthy. Because the dialogue MacIvor provided her was so self-reflective and diary-like, the actors spent most of the night as if glued rather than animated. Small wonder. All they had to work with was playwright MacIvor's talk. Talk, talk, talk. Talking about talking. Talking about not talking. Trying to talk their way into creating meaning in life rather than just by being. 

Case-in-point : Harold Pinter ["The Last to Go"] created a couple of Limey duffers talking over pints of warm beer -- day-after-endless-day -- who make trite but somehow blithe observations about the local buses going by outside their favourite pub window. His genius was to make their yada-yada both seem and be convincing in its own commonplace way.

Who gonna likeWhether a gay male playwright can adequately infuse two ambiguously gay women with compelling persona is not a question about appropriation of voice. These characters needed more obvious depth than the somewhat glib existential question they pose back and forth ad nauseam.

But because live theatre is so vital and immediate -- an unforgiving medium if ever were one -- the enthusiasm brought to this production and performance by Ms's Medeiros and Oel is noteworthy. As actors their energy intersects even if the words they've been given to work with lack gut-level emotional persuasion. 

In so doing they reflect admirably part of NGP's stated raison d'être for what they do : "Theatre is that honest place where we tell a story in the most truthful way possible. To be authentic while sharing the lives of flawed and genuine people." No question this performance achieves that objective distinctively despite the limitations of the script itself.

Particulars : Produced by Naked Goddess Productions.  Written by Daniel MacIvor. On until March 25th.  At the Kits Neighbourhood House theatre. Run-time 65 minutes, no intermission.  Tickets and schedule information via Naked Goddess Productions

Production team : Tamara McCarthy, Director.  Celeste English, Lighting Designer.  Nico Dicecco, Sound Designer / Stage Manager.  Sandy Margaret, Scenic Designer.  Amelie Love (daughter of Ms. Medeiros), Music & Lyrics for the song Bittersweet Stories.

Performers :  Sandra Medeiros, Emme.  Melissa Oei, Elle.


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