by Daniel MacIvor
Horseshoes and Hand Grenades Equity Co-op
Performance Works
Granville Island
March 24-April 2

Here's Jerry's review of the original production in November 2004.

Among the theatrical events I look forward to most is the latest Daniel MacIvor play. One of Canadian theatre’s few real geniuses, playwright/actor MacIvor has toured here with shows like Monster, House, Here Lies Henry and In On It, monologues or two-handers in which his psychologically hyper-tense character tells the audience an elaborate story about himself. MacIvor performs on a bare stage in an intimate space (usually the Cultch), using strong lighting and sound to help drive his twisted narratives directly at the audience with powerful effect.

The west coast premiere of this year’s new MacIvor, You Are Here, has eight actors, none of them MacIvor himself. This time an emotionally knotted-up woman named Alison narrates her life with painful difficulty on a bare floor in the intimacy of the Video In. As Alison, the superb Colleen Wheeler delivers the performance of the year.

Hers is the story of an apparently intelligent, independent, unconventional woman, “never the marrying type,” who somehow ends up disastrously married to loser/user psychologist cum screenwriter Jerry (Alex Williams). A journalist specializing in celebrity profiles, she tries to save the marriage by producing his script using her connections to film director Thomas (Sean Devine), who has sold out his talent to commercial schlock, and starlet Diana (Alexa Dubreuil). Bitterly betrayed by Jerry and Diana, traumatized by a miscarriage, refusing the lifelines offered her by Thomas and her oldest friend and confidant, slacker Richard (Noah Drew), Alison slides into alcoholism, despair and the arms of a nasty gigolo (Marco Soriano).

Though the plot sounds like soap opera, You Are Here never feels that way because the writing is so smart, the presentation clean and minimalist, and the acting powerful. In the strong light and shadow of Larry Lynn’s almost expressionist design, director Mindy Parfitt unobtrusively slides the other characters in and out of Alison’s memory, sustaining a level of quiet intensity and effectively framing those few moments when props are employed—a flower torn and tossed, a glass of red liquid very slowly poured to the floor. MacIvor transcends cliché with dialogue that subtly delineates character: Alison on her pregnancy (“like a door opened on a room I didn’t even know I had”) or Diana on her approach to moviemaking (“I’m not an artist, I’m an actress”). Dubreuil gives Diana a surprising vulnerability, playing a fine line between clueless and genuinely self-conscious. Devine makes Thomas interesting and complicated. Drew’s Richard is always likeable, despite his annoying habit of punctuating almost every line with a little laugh.

And Colleen Wheeler is absolutely mesmerizing. As a traumatized Alison re-enacting her life, Wheeler makes her anguish heartbreaking. She lets Alison’s story leak out carefully and tentatively, with a stillness as if something precious would break if she moved too quickly. Usually no more than a few feet from the audience, her performance is so honest and open it sometimes feels almost embarrassing to watch.

I have to temper my rave with a caveat about the script. Why Alison marries Jerry, why such an apparently strong woman remains so passive in the face of her most important choices, and why she lets her life slide so relentlessly downhill are never satisfactorily explained. Not until the conclusion—a surprise ending with a further happy ending tacked on—does MacIvor suggest what she might have done differently to avoid her bitter fate. But it still doesn’t establish Alison’s fundamental motivation. Luckily for us, the actress’s exceptional performance compensates for the playwright’s unusual lapse.

Jerry Wasserman


last updated: Monday, March 21, 2005 9:14 AM
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