By —John Threlfall Jan 10 2007
Be sure to take a trip to Marion Bridge
Three things about WAVE Theatre’s current production of Marion Bridge that had me looking forward to it before I even set foot into the increasingly swanky Metro Studio: it was written by Governor General Literary Award-winning playwright Daniel MacIvor, it’s an unapologetically Canadian piece, and it features three strong local actors. (And if I needed a fourth reason, there’s always Metro’s cushy new seats, which are deserving of a short review themselves—comfy, lots of leg room, great back support!) That said, was I disappointed in my expectations? Not in the slightest. While the pacing does lag a bit at times, Marion Bridge remains a compelling and strongly acted piece well worth a visit.
As outwardly different (and inwardly similar) as most siblings are, the MacKeigan sisters—Agnes (Kate Rubin), Theresa (Monica Prendergast) and Louise (Gina McIntosh)—find themselves once again gathered in their family home in Sydney, Nova Scotia, brought together by the imminent death of their mother. Each has carved out her own path in life—Agnes, by living the partying life in Toronto; Theresa, by becoming a nun who works on a farm; and Louise, by never leaving home or changing much at all. Still, despite their apparently different lifestyles, each of the sisters has found a way to hide from the “real” world through booze, god and television, respectively. But it isn’t until they find themselves together again that their private and public worlds—to say nothing of their own secrets and lies—begin to be revealed.
While MacIvor is known for his often experimental theatrical presentations (In On It, You Are Here), Marion Bridge is rather traditional in its approach; with the exception of a series of monologues (each of which feature elements of metatheatricality), this is a fairly straightforward family drama, interspersed with moments of humour. The intentionally sparse set—a table, three chairs, a coat rack and an easy chair—puts all the focus on the script and the talent.
Working without an outside director (WAVE’s mandate is for the actors to work collaboratively and co-direct themselves), Rubin, Prendergast and McIntosh blend well, having previously appeared together in The Attic, The Pearls and Three Fine Girls. Each is a consummate performer and indeed, it is a treat to watch three fine actors working without a net, as it were. As the borderline alcoholic Toronto party girl, Rubin has the outwardly juiciest part and plays it very well, but McIntosh’s plaid-wearing, possibly lesbian, TV addict is equally charming and she offers a wonderfully understated performance; in comparison, Prendergast’s turn as the hand-wringing nun with mildly shaky religious convictions comes off as far less interesting, though no less engaging.
If there’s a complaint to be made about this production, it’s in the pacing. There are clearly spots where the action could be picked up a tad, and MacIvor’s dialogue would be better served at times with a more rapid-fire delivery; and, unlike the Belfry studio (where WAVE did Attic), Metro’s stage may just be too darn big for this production. There are times when it seems to take the cast forever to cross from one side to the other. Yes, the outside eye of a director could possibly have made a difference with details like this, but that’s neither here nor there, given WAVE’s mandate.
But these are minor quibbles in what is generally an enjoyable dramatic offering. If you’ve ever had family feuds over the death of a parent or simply have long-standing sibling issues you’ve never gotten around to dealing with, Marion Bridge will ring truer than you think. And keep an ear open for the closing track—an acoustic instrumental version of “People Are Strange”—which, if you catch it, will make you leave the theatre with a smile on your lips and give you some final insight into this production.