His Greatness

By Daniel MacIvor. Directed by Linda Moore. An Arts Club Theatre Company production. At the Granville Island Stage on Wednesday, October 17. Continues until November 10

His Greatness isn't great. Much of Act One is a waste; but the script contains one passage of real beauty, and there are three excellent performances in this production.

In this new work, playwright Daniel MacIvor imagines two days in the life of Tennessee Williams when he was in Vancouver in 1980 rehearsing The Red Devil Battery Sign at the Playhouse.

MacIvor's story is about abandonment–by love and by genius–but it takes too long to establish those terms. MacIvor sets his tale in a formerly grand hotel room. In Act One, the character he calls the Playwright is attended to by a one-time lover and long-time companion, identified as the Assistant, who organizes the Playwright's schedule and stops him from killing himself with alcohol and cocaine. The Assistant hires a hustler called the Young Man to be the Playwright's companion on opening night.

None of this matters very much. The relationship between the Playwright and his assistant is an uninteresting marriage. The two natter and exchange easy insults. The writing exposes no depth of love, and no compelling threat to their bond. It's hard to care about how the opening will go, because we are told in many ways that the Playwright's new work is crap.

Surprisingly, transcendence arrives just before intermission. The three men return from the opening feeling unexpectedly victorious. The unschooled Young Man is genuinely and deliriously enthusiastic about the Playwright's talent. The Playwright dismisses the Assistant, dims the lights in his hotel room, and finds a piano sonata on the radio. Then he asks the Young Man to strip to his underwear and read to him from one of his scripts. However fleetingly, the beautiful youth becomes the Playwright's muse. Finally, His Greatness hits home.

After this belated setup, the second act is stronger than the first. Now that love and talent have gained some importance, it matters when the Assistant and the Young Man fight for preeminence in the Playwright's life, and when the Playwright's hopes are dashed by negative reviews.

The music in the underwear scene made me doubly aware of how much I longed for literary music–for poetry–elsewhere. The Playwright's opening and closing monologues are lovely. The dialogue generally isn't.

As written, the Young Man is the least predictable and therefore the most interesting figure. Recent Studio 58 graduate Charles Christien Gallant triumphs in the role. Confidently and subtly, Gallant fills his character's body and lets it speak its own language of bluff and vulnerability. As the Playwright, Allan Gray does an excellent impersonation and, beyond that, presents a formidable portrait of a man capable of frightening depths of feeling. David Marr makes The Assistant emotionally trim and tailored, as he should be.

Alan Brodie's lighting is appropriately superb in this homage to Williams, who cared so much about illumination.