Nova Scotia Theatre. Nova Scotia Play. Nova Scotia Cast. Bingo!

emmy alcorn & heather rankin

photo by timothy richard

Tonight I was so proud to witness a historical moment at Neptune Theatre, the Opening of the first Daniel MacIvor play to grace the Fountain Hall Main Stage, the co-production of Mulgrave Road Theatre’s Bingo. A well overdue and momentous occasion, as MacIvor said in a recent interview for The Chronicle Herald, “There was a period of time when it was rare to see even an actor from here on stage. [In Bingo] we have a Nova Scotia theatre doing a Nova Scotia play set in Nova Scotia with all East Coast artists and I think that’s exciting.”It is wonderfully exciting, and once again I find myself thinking that if this moment is an indication of the direction of the future for the next 50 years for our regional theatre we are a lucky theatre community and a lucky city indeed.

Bingo! tells the story of five friends whose lives are all irrevocably connected by their shared past, who come together for their thirty year High School reunion in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Rooted ardently in the concept of home, and how a small town can sometimes seem to stifle the growth of its residents, Bingo! is filled with lots of humour, a strong dose of heart and five incredibly rich and multifaceted characters whose interactions with one another are both familiar and irresistible.

On the surface, Bingo! seems like a simple summer stock comedy that uses specific details from a particular time (1982) and place (Cape Breton, Nova Scotia) to appeal especially to a certain generation and a certain experience regarding both the coming of age, and revisiting those memories from thirty years away. Yet, what sets Bingo! apart is, of course, Daniel MacIvor’s writing. He plays a lot with speech rhythms in this play, in a nice mixture of slight regional dialect and giving each character their own distinct speech pattern, without any of it seeming at all contrived or manipulative. The result, when the five voices collide, is poetic realism. The humour in the play is quite incessant and MacIvor finds a great balance between offering his characteristic smart and crisp wit within a story that I am sure will find mass appeal with audiences. Bingo! is a local story that never feels hokey, it has a freshness that delves far beyond stereotypes and allows for its characters to be complex and fascinating whilst still keeping the comedy intact and engaging the heart. In my opinion, this is precisely what all comedies should seek to do.

John Beale plays Paul, or “Nurk” as he was known in High School, a diplomatic and sometimes sheepish Environmental Engineer who has moved from Sydney to Calgary. Beale roots himself firmly in the audience’s heart from his Opening monologue and endears himself further once his acute awkward shyness with the ladies is revealed and then he becomes one of the play’s reluctant heroes. Emmy Alcorn plays Boots, a tough minded cat lover who finds relationships a challenge because she thinks everyone else is an idiot. The sheer power of Alcorn’s presence is impressive and her performance manages to be simultaneously assertive and subtle to perfect effect. Marty Burt plays Dougie Duke, otherwise known as “Dookie,” who is the classic bully. Burt creates a true villain here that audiences will love to hate and they will likely delight in the Schadenfreude that comes near the end of the play. It is fascinating to watch how calculated Dookie’s actions are, especially in the subtle way that he controls his friend Heffer. Burt gives a nuanced performance where Dookie’s insecurities only peak through in glimmers, especially in his interactions with Nurk, who clearly triggers his repressed inferiority complex.

Ryan Rogerson plays “Heffer” (Jeff), Dookie’s best friend, who still acts like a teenager, but is also harbouring an intense secret, with such ease it is easy to forget that he is acting. His comic timing is sharp, especially in the delivery of his signature “Shaddup!” and he spends the entire play continuously coming out and then retreating back into his shell without drawing any attention to it. There is a beautiful collaboration of brilliance in Heffer’s dialogue as Rogerson and MacIvor are able to convey so much in lines like, “Yeah. Yeah. No. Really, Really, Yeah. No.” Just when you think Rogerson is all overgrown fourteen year old goofball he pulls the rug out from underneath of you with a beautifully earnest confession to Boots that certainly tugs on the heartstrings. Heather Rankin plays Boots’ best friend, Bitsy (Kathy Cameron), whose fear of the future has left her a little emotionally stunted and stuck in an existence defined by others where opportunities for growth and change have continually passed her by. Rankin is the comic genius of Bingo!, from Bitsy’s squeaky, and often confused, voice, her wide, naive eyes and her hilarious physicality that oscillates between nearly painful awkwardness to natural sexiness and back again within a blink of the eye. Bitsy’s awakening, like the anticipated unfurling of a butterfly, is always on the precipice but Rankin ensures that we are only ever given a glimpse of the woman beneath the girl. Yet, she also infuses Bitsy, a character who could be written off as a stereotypical ditzy small town girl, with a great deal of heart and even a little introspective wisdom.

Daniel MacIvor is a master at giving his characters hilarious things to say, humour is intrinsic to even his saddest plays, but Bingo! gives him the refreshing opportunity to explore some good old fashioned silliness as a director and he does so with panache, with the help of this gifted ensemble. Some of the funniest moments of this show exist in silences, one centering on a sing-along to “It’s Sad to Belong” that fades off, literally, into a stage full of hysterical facial expressions and one concerning John Beale’s Nurk, a cassette tape and a pencil. MacIvor’s sense of comic timing here is meticulous and fun.

The “Bingo” of the title refers to a convoluted drinking game that Dookie, Paul and Heffer played in High School, and the word “Bingo!” is meant to express the joy of winning or of something triumphant and that’s likely exactly how you will feel as you walk out the doors of the theatre after seeing this show.

The Neptune Theatre presentation of the Mulgrave Road Production of Bingo plays at Neptune’s Fountain Hall (1593 Argyle Street) until November 4th, 2012. Tickets from $20.00 to $51.00. Performances Tuesday-Friday at 7:30pm. Saturdays at 4:00pm and 8:30pm, Sundays at 2:00pm and 7:30pm. To purchase tickets please visit the Neptune Box Office at 1593 Argyle Street, phone 902.429.7070 or go online to http://www.neptunetheatre.com

MacIvor Mania at Live In & Neptune

daniel macivor & john beale in the best brothers at the stratford festival

photo by cylla von tiedemann

Two weeks ago as part of DaPoPo Theatre’s month-long theatre festival, The Live In, at The Living Room on Agricola Street, I was given the opportunity to experience one of theatre’s oldest and most powerful visceral responses: the act of catharsis. Having emerged from an emotional weekend, I attended a one-night-only staged reading of Daniel MacIvor’s play The Best Brothers, which premiered at the Studio Theatre at the Stratford Festival of Canada this past summer. It was the perfect mixture of heartwarming and absurd and often led me into my favourite emotion: laughter through tears.

Kyle and Hamilton are brothers grieving the sudden loss of their mother, Ardith “Bunny” Best, who died in a freak accident involving a plus-sized drag queen named Pina Colada during the Pride Parade. The grieving process is a deeply personal one that is unique to each person and circumstance and the disparate Best brothers struggle to cooperate with one another in the execution of their mother’s final wishes.

The construction of The Best Brothers is similar to other two-hander MacIvor plays in that he plays a lot with overlapping dialogue and characters who appear to finish one another’s sentences, even when delivering monologues directly to the audience. This is particularly effective for Kyle and Hamilton because it suggests that, despite how opposite they seem at first glance, they also have the shared idiosyncrasies of siblings. Yet, this play also has a very linear narrative where Kyle and Hamilton exist both in their own separate spheres and also come together in dialogue that propels the story forward in a quite conventional way. The result is a sort of hybrid between a play like In On It and a play like Marion Bridge and MacIvor captures the most compelling aspects of the storytelling in both.

MacIvor plays Hamilton, the tightly wound architect whose emphasis on decorum, maturity and propriety clashes fervently with John Beale’s more haphazard and hesitant real estate agent Kyle, who would like to have their mother’s visitation catered and to be free to pass out his business cards to guests. Much of the contention that arises between the brothers is rooted in the relationship that they have had with their mother from childhood and their relationship to her recently adopted dog, the often naughty Enzo. Throughout the play repressed emotions come to a head (in the middle of the funeral service no less!), secrets are revealed and Enzo gets a new home.

What is so lovely about the relationship between Hamilton and Kyle and the way that MacIvor paints the revelations that emerge in this play is that they are all rooted in subtlety and subtext. The brothers grow into this new world without their mother, into new relationships with each other, with Enzo and with themselves both slowly and slightly, suggesting the potential for growth to come out of tragedy, but acknowledging that such things require time and in the complexity of theatre, like in life, there are no instant solutions or quick fixes. The chemistry between MacIvor and Beale in this piece, even in a staged reading, is extraordinary. At times I could see the shadows of the little boys they had once been cross their faces and it was clear that there was a rich shorthand between both the characters and the actors which created the intense allusion of brotherhood. Beale’s performance as Kyle is an especially interesting one, he has this beautiful naivety of spirit, which sometimes gives him an affable carefree quality and sometimes makes him seem a bit lost and forlorn. It is a cocktail of emotions that one doesn’t see performed so flawlessly very often.

MacIvor and Beale also both portray Bunny Best in a series of monologues that set the scene for the adoption of Enzo and, as Kelly Nestruck writes in his review of the play from The Globe and Mail, they will very likely make you want to get a dog of your own. The choice to have both MacIvor and Beale characterize Bunny is a strong one, as both portrayals are as different as Hamilton and Kyle, but also with distinct similarities. This suggests that we are given the opportunity to see a very literal representation of each brother’s perspective on his mother. The truth is subjective and we would imagine that if Bunny were there to represent herself, her own portrayal would be different yet again.

This is a play that I would love to see have a full production in Halifax. Keeping an internationally renowned local playwright like MacIvor working continually in Halifax presents all sorts of exciting opportunities for both the artists and the theatre community in Nova Scotia as well as for all the theatregoers of this great province. Halifax-based actor John Beale’s talent is given a marvelous showcase in this play that audiences deserve to see. It is also just a beautifully constructed, heartwarming, smart and insightful story.

For now, Halifax audiences can see John Beale, along with Nova Scotian actors Marty Burt, Emmy Alcorn, Heather Rankin and Ryan Rogerson in the Mulgrave Road/Neptune Theatre production of Daniel MacIvor’s play Bingo, playing at Neptune’s Fountain Hall (1593 Argyle Street) now until November 4th. Check out this review from the Mulgrave Road production, with the same cast, from July 2011. For more information please visit www.neptunetheatre.com.    

DaPoPo’s The Live In includes play readings, DaPoPo’s newest production, a return of The Drinking Game and workshops, all at the Living Room (2353 Agricola Street) through October 31, 2012. Check out this website for more information! 

Amanda Recommends…

If I were in Halifax right now I would run- not walk but run- to the North Street Church to go see Luna/Sea Theatre Company’s production of Morris Panych’s play Girl in the Goldfish Bowl. I would rush to review the show and I would hope to score interviews with the amazing women who co-founded this company and the artists who have created this piece of theatre for Nova Scotian audiences. Luna/ Sea is a professional company whose mandate is to tell women’s stories and create work for the many talented professionals in the region. This is so vitally important for Nova Scotia- our province has the talented artists, what it needs is YOU, the audience member, to stand in support of them and their independent ventures. It is these independent theatre companies, and experiments, and leaps of faith that- if nurtured and patronized- will grow into a series of indigenous theatres and companies that all work together to create Halifax’s indigenous theatre community. We don’t have one unique vision as a city, and no one theatre should monopolize it. Someday, I dream of having a Haligonian theatre “district.” Luna/Sea is one step closer to this dream being realized.
 
If you’re in Halifax, I urge you to support this theatre company and all independent, local theatre companies. Send a strong message that there is an audience for the arts in Halifax- an audience that is exuberant about the future and who demands to be seen and heard in droves. Don’t let theatre fall by the wayside. It is as vital, relevant and native to our city and its people as the ocean. The first known dramatization by Europeans on this continent was performed in the ocean off the coast of our province, after all. Theatre is our legacy. Let’s grab it and own it. Let’s bring it home.
 
Girl in the Goldfish Bowl is directed by the brilliant Martha Irving and stars Mauralea Austin, John Beale, Kathryn MacLellan, Graham Percy and Sherry Smith. It plays tonight (Friday, November 28, 2008) at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm and Sunday at 2pm and 8pm. Make your reservations at 902 868-1186. Tickets are $20.00 and $15.00 for students and seniors.

One audience member said of the show: “Shows like this are the reason I love theatre.” Rekindle your love now! Run to North Street Church!