I, Animal, I Like.

richie wilcox, ingrid risk, antonio cayonne, kathryn maclellan & stewart legere

A large crowd came out last night to the Opening of Daniel MacIvor’s new play I, Animal, presented by Kazan Co-Op as part of Eastern Front Theatre’s SuperNova Festival. It runs at Neptune’s Studio Theatre until Sunday May 20th and then heads to Toronto’s SummerWorks Festival in August. You should all stop reading and order your tickets now, because this is absolutely a Festival sell out and you won’t want to be disappointed on Sunday Night.

 I, Animal is comprised of three characters who each connect to the audience through a beautifully crafted monologue. Of all the great playwrights in this country, and there are many, I think Daniel MacIvor is the master of creating the most vividly profound and poetically irresistible monologues in the theatre. What continually amazes me about MacIvor’s writing is that he is able to write hilariously and perceptively about the human condition with an obvious literary sophistication and yet it always seems to come from the depths of the truth of each of his characters, whether they are a nurse, a high school student or a worldly woman in her prime.

Our three unnamed protagonists, Man in Scrubs, Boy in Hoodie and Woman in Prada, are not obviously connected to one another. They do not share the stage at the same time and their stories do not intersect. The relationship that builds throughout I, Animal is the relationship between each of these three with us in the audience. Yet, there are a few recurring themes to tie these stories together. The man, the boy and the woman all speak about their love for a particular animal and they each comment on the beauty of the moon. As MacIvor’s title suggests, the fact that we are all animals and interact with other animals in a myriad of different ways, along with our communal experience of the moon, is something that binds not only these three people together, but all of humanity.

The man, the boy and the woman each tell us a story, but they are all very specific stories, told about one particular time in their lives. So, rather than experiencing the full journey of someone’s narrative or the “most important” moment of their lives, we are dropped right into the middle of a story, one that may not necessarily be THE story, for a limited amount of time and then our perspective is shifted into the life of someone else. I loved this delicate balance that MacIvor maintained of giving us enough of a taste of these three individual personalities to be captivated and invested in what happens, but also that he leaves us wanting to get to know these people better, to hear more of their stories, eager to see what happens next.

Monologue-based plays require exquisite actors and I, Animal has three. Antonio Cayonne plays Man in Scrubs, a nurse who identifies as Queer, as well as Halifax-born with a Jamaican mother. Too often we see stereotypes of sexual orientation, race and ethnicity in film, in theatre and on TV, and it is so refreshing to see that in bringing these three things to one character, through Cayonne a unique individual is born. Man in Scrubs is the perfect example of how much more fascinating individuals are to watch onstage. There are beautiful complexities, contradictions, surprises, great humour and unmistakeable humanity at play here and it makes his story so compelling to experience.

Stewart Legere plays Boy in Hoodie, a music aficionado who loves photography but got into a heap of trouble for a photo of a cat he once posted on his website. Legere brings a beautiful innocence to this boy, a sweetness surrounded by a shell of shy indifference. He also has this lovely restless energy and a slight mischievous streak to him which makes his boyishness all the more endearing. Kathryn MacLellan plays Woman in Prada, an easily exasperated wealthy powerhouse woman of the world who finds herself in an airport with gorgeous luggage unsure of what she is leaving and no idea where she is going. One of my favourite things about watching Kathryn MacLellan is that she is not afraid to push her characters into the terrifying waters of absolute vulnerability. There is a moment at the end of the play when she begins to laugh and cry simultaneously and it is just effortless. As an audience member you really feel like you are witnessing a real moment unfolding, nothing canned, no tricks, just a spontaneous moment of the beauty of life. That is brilliant theatre. The best part about MacLellan doing MacIvor characters like Woman in Prada is that there is an immediate tension between that gorgeous inherent vulnerability and the chic, sleek, confident and urbane facade of the character. It is this tension that hooks you immediately and keeps you clinging along for the ride.

Likely thanks to Daniel Brooks my immediate connotation with Daniel MacIvor’s plays is people (or a person) in a room in deep darkness. The director of this production, Richie Wilcox fulfills my expectations to great effect in this piece, with the talents of lighting designer Ingrid Risk. I think one of the reasons that keeping the stage intensely dark works so brilliantly for monologue-based shows is that it channels the audience’s vision toward the person who is speaking. They become swathed in the darkness and suddenly it doesn’t matter how big the stage or the theatre, the room shrinks and you are immediately on intimate terms with the people who are telling you their stories. Wilcox also manages to create a shared ambiance for these three unaffiliated characters, their stories and their shared themes without it ever seeming contrived or obvious.

I, Animal is a beautiful play beautifully done by a Halifax-based company. I am sure that it will be received very warmly in Toronto this summer, so I hope that you all will run to check it out while it is here through the weekend!

I Animal plays at the Neptune Studio Theatre (1593 Argyle Street next to The Argyle Grill) as part of Eastern Front Theatre’s SuperNova Theatre Festival at the following times: For more information or to book your tickets please call 902.429.7070 or click right here

Thursday May 17th at 9:00pm

Saturday May 19th at 2:00pm

Sunday May 20th at 4:00pm

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