I don’t need to tell you that Daniel MacIvor is a brilliant playwright. As the former co-artistic director of da da kamera, renowned playwright of plays like You Are Here, The Soldier Dreams and In On It, writer and performer in an array of one-man shows such as Monster, Here Lies Henry and Cul-de-sac, screenwriter, actor, director, artist, MacIvor has been an international theatre sensation since before I started kindergarten.
If you are given the opportunity to attend a reading of a new Daniel MacIvor play, especially a reading where Daniel MacIvor himself will be in attendance, you should always jump at the chance. That is how a friend and I came to take a little road trip from Toronto to Stratford, Ontario to see a reading of MacIvor’s new play His Greatness.
There are certain things that one comes to expect when he or she sees a Daniel MacIvor show, a meta-theatrical array of flashes into the lives of cleverly intersected characters whose stories- witty, poignant, poetic and uncouth- layer one on top of the other to create a theme or image all-encompassing, messy, contradictory, raw, extraordinary. Each play is remarkably different and yet, somehow there is a shared thread that links them to this one man. His Greatness takes Daniel MacIvor in an entirely different direction.
The play was inspired by Canadian theatre folklore surrounding Tennessee Williams’ early 1980s visit to Vancouver to premiere his latest work. Grounded in history with an element of almost “kitchen sink” realism, Daniel MacIvor beautifully leaps (some would say backwards) into a different form of storytelling. The result is an insightful look at what constitutes “greatness” and what happens when talent, loyalty and beauty fade away.
Even in a reading, without costumes or sets, props or staging, simply watching actors standing and reading from scripts on music stands, MacIvor’s words and his story came to life. His characters are perfectly crafted: the aging playwright fading into obscurity dependent on drugs and male escorts to kindle his vitality, his neurotic assistant whose obsessive monitoring of the playwright’s world smothers him away and the charming young man with his naïve pursuit for fairness. Together they create a gripping threesome of opposing desire, truths, principles, and perspectives. The audience spends the play falling in and out of synch with each of them.
At the Stratford reading, four actors gave beautiful, subtle performances. Richard Monette, the Festival’s Artistic Director, transformed into a pained, clumsily gallant Tennessee Williams. Steve Cumyn’s Assistant was performed with brilliant clarity and precision and Allan Hawco gave a beautiful performance as the charming male escort with an unexpected heart of gold.
Near the end of the play, the Young Man asks the playwright why critics have such power over the success or demise of a play. It’s a question I’ve asked myself again and again. If I tell you that having seen this play performed without all the technicalities that usually constitute a show it was still one of the most exciting and fascinating pieces of theatre I have ever seen, will that cause the lot of you to jump on an airplane to attend the premiere, fully staged version of this play at the Arts Club Theatre on Granville Island in Vancouver? The playwright tells the Young Man that the theatre is his church and art is his god. MacIvor has said that he believes this as well, and so do I. Like any other church, I shouldn’t have the power to make or break someone’s beliefs, someone’s dreams, and yet I take so much pride in sitting in my own humble pulpit- a laptop on a desk on a blog on the Internet- to spread the word about the magic I witness, the experiences that fill me with light and love and hope and faith. His Greatness was one such moment.
His Greatness by Daniel MacIvor runs at the Arts Club Theatre on Granville Island in Vancouver until November 10th, 2007. Granville Island Stage. 1585 Johnston Street. Call 604 687-1644 or visit http://www.artsclub.com/ for tickets.