by Daniel MacIvor
by Michel Garneau
Street Repertory Theatre Company with Meta.for Theatre Society
Pacific Theatre, 1420 W. 12th
June 23-July 9
In theory, a double-bill of Canadian plays about the dynamics and
dangers of testosterone-fuelled competitiveness and aggression looks
like a great idea. In practice it only half-succeeds. Two young
companies, Street Repertory Theatre and Meta.for Theatre, have pooled
their resources here with radically mixed results.
The first half of the evening, Daniel MacIvor’s Never
Swim Alone, is a stunner. Toronto’s MacIvor is one
of our indispensable playwrights, with a range of styles from the
ensemble naturalism of You Are
Here and Marion Bridge
to disturbing psychodramatic monologues like House
and Cul-de-sac. Never
Swim Alone is something else again.
Refereed by a girl in a bathing suit, two men in business suits
enact a heavily stylized, absurd machismo contest superimposed over
the flashback story of a tragic summer swim. The girl drowned that
summer years ago, and the men’s competition offers a theatrically
scintillating, if intellectually baffling, commentary on the event.
In their twelve-round bout, adjudicated by the whistle-blowing
referee, the men speak rapidly, sometimes in duet, comparing their
families, their expensive clothes and homes, challenging each other’s
claims, undercutting each other’s status.
When Bill raises questions about Frank’s marriage, Frank
observes that Bill’s hair has gotten thinner. They argue about
who’s tighter with the boss and insult each other’s
parentage. Their musical theme is “The Good, the Bad, and
the Ugly,” their rivalry staged as a
High Noon showdown.
There’s nothing especially subtle or original about MacIvor’s
critique—the referee even pulls out a ruler and measures the
men’s penises. What makes it exciting is its dynamic theatricality,
especially when the story crosses over to the scenes at the beach
where all three race “through the water to the point”
in a frantic choral ballet that has the eerie power of Greek tragedy.
MacIvor’s ideas and imagery get full value from the vivid,
precise performances of attractive young actors Ruth Brown, Daniel
Martin and Thrasso Petras, and director Amanda Lockitch’s
imaginative staging. Even the heavy-handed ending, moralizing about
winners and losers, gains resonance from video clips of war projected
on a screen above the stage.
Those same video scenes accompany the second show of the night,
Warriors by Quebec’s
Michel Garneau. Again two men go mano a mano. They’re ad execs
who have won a contract to brainstorm a new recruiting slogan for
the Canadian Forces to replace “There’s no life like
it.” Locked in a room with a computer, booze, cocaine and
some books on war, they have ten days to deliver the goods.
But this time Lockitch and her actors, Sean Cummings and Jeffrey
Fischer, can’t save a clumsy, static script full of conventional
ideas and theatrical clichés. Sometimes war is hell indeed.