annie valentina & michael mcphee
Frankie Productions premiere of Christian Murray’s new play Bone Boy, which plays until June 3rd at the North Street Church is one of the strongest and most exciting productions of a Halifax-written play produced by the independent theatre community that I have seen in the last year in Halifax.
The play centers on Anthony, a man-boy who died as a child, but who, through the magic of science, has been brought back to life and reunited with his parents. A sort of whimsical mixture of Frankenstein and Edward Scissorhands, this play is exorbitantly funny and also very moving, especially thanks to the brilliant performances by Mary Colin Chisholm and Michael McPhee.
The story is set in Halifax, but the characters often seem far more transient, as though they are all lost a bit in both time and space. As in Tim Burton films, this allows for the stretching of our acceptance of what is plausible and creates a delightful atmosphere where Christian Murray’s imagination obviously revels. He writes beautifully gripping monologues for both Mary Colin Chisholm, as Anthony’s mother Fern and Brian Heighton, as his father Alec, there is dark, almost Shakespearean poetry for the members of the Tightie Whitie Mighty Gang and the dialogue crafted for Anthony demonstrates so effortlessly how trapped he is, not only between life and death, but also between being a child and being an adult.
As a director, Murray mirrors the sense of magic and fun that is woven into his writing. There are some antics with a fireplace (designed brilliantly by Wes Daniels) that made me giddy with wonder. Some scenes are thrust very close to the audience, which make you feel as though the fourth wall were entirely permeable. Annie Valentina, as the Tooth Fairy, has an unexpected entrance and the constant physical comedy of the show, as well as the cyclical movement of the action enhances the topsy-turvy ambiance of Murray’s writing. Leigh Ann Vardy also brings so much of this to life with her fantastic lighting design.
Alec and Fern are both initially displeased with the way Anthony is returned to them, but throughout the play the way they work through their disappointment with their quasi-dead son is quite different. Brian Heighton brings a strong, and then warped, sense of “Father Knows Best” to Alec, and it is fun to watch his frustration and desperation mount throughout the piece. He and McPhee have a glorious scene at Alec’s breaking point which is like a cartoon cat and mouse chase come to life. Mary Colin Chisholm roots Fern in the most realism of the play and her journey is a very poignant one of a mother trying to hold on frantically to any remnant of her dead beloved boy. The relationship that develops between Chisholm’s Fern and McPhee’s Anthony is very sweet and ultimately sad, and I love having this through line amidst the sillier antics of the rest of the show.
Michael McPhee gives an amazing performance as Anthony, and his skeletal sidekick Bone Boy. From the way he speaks, trying to connect often mismatched or completely missing syntaxes, to the way he moves, McPhee is Edward Scissorhands meets the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz as a zombie. This part is brilliantly suited to all of McPhee’s amazing talents, from his awing physical comedy skills, to the way he puppeteers and gives voice to Bone Boy, in being able to be so biting and caustic in one breath and then just as vulnerable and quietly sad in the next, it is all absolutely stunning. This is a Merritt Award-worthy performance from McPhee that you will not want to miss.
There are a few aspects of the play’s dramaturgy that I thought could use some tightening up or clarification for future incarnations. There are a lot of meta-theatrical, Brechtian sort of jokes in the play, which are all very funny, but I wasn’t exactly sure why they were there. I was so invested in the story that these random spurts of alienation effect kept distracting me from the characters and the emotions that I was most interested in. I also thought that if the conceit of the meta-theatricality was integral to Murray’s vision of the show, it may be an idea to present it right off the top so the audience accepts that as part of the world from the get-go. I found Annie Valentina’s character of the Exposition/ Tooth Fairy to be a little problematic. Valentina played the part beautifully and with great potential for something very quirky and fun, but I felt that Murray didn’t give her a clear enough story arc or didn’t build a strong enough case for why the Tooth Fairy was integral to the story and to Anthony. I felt there was so much more Valentina could do in the role, and, also, so much more the Tooth Fairy could contribute to the narrative. As the Exposition Fairy, even she herself admits there is no need for the exposition that she wants to offer so I wondered why we needed her. Actually, I found that Murray tended to overwrite the exposition for the show a little too much. There was a scene where Alec reveals the way Anthony died, but I had already pieced it together by then, which left that scene falling a bit flat.
In all, however, Bone Boy is a fantastic and unique evening out at the theatre that is sure to set your bones rattling with laughter.
Bone Boy plays at the North Street Church (5657 North Street, Halifax) until June 3rd at the following times:
Tuesday May 29 – Saturday June 2 Shows at 8pm
Sunday June 3 2pm Matinee
Closes Sunday June 3 8pm
Tickets: $25 regular $15 students/seniors/artists. For more information or to book your tickets please call 902.401.8202 (Cash Only Please) or visit www.fprod.org.