You Are Here

By Daniel MacIvor. Directed by Mindy Parfitt. A Horseshoes and Hand Grenades Equity Co-op production.

At Video In Studios until Saturday, December 4

Colleen Wheeler delivers a performance of absolutely monumental scale. Daniel MacIvor's script for You Are Here is so harsh but so rewarding that it's downright cathartic. This show is one of the best things you'll ever see, and you'll be laughing so hard that its impact will sneak up on you.

In this production's first moments, a soft light dawns on the audience; on-stage, a figure walks toward us in darkness. This is one of the many beautiful cues that we must thank lighting designer Larry Lynn for. The woman on-stage is Alison, and she is here to review her life.

Alison is smart. That may be one of the reasons her existence, which we taste in a series of flashbacks, has been so hard. Alison tells her university pal, Richard, that she hates a fellow student named Connie Hoy because she thinks Connie is shamelessly pursuing marriage and children. Mingling resentment with the language of feminism, Alison denies her own desire for intimacy. Perhaps because she is so frightened, her feelings never manifest in direct and positive action. She dismisses what she wants as banal, hiding in half-baked alternatives: a tepid marriage, a distracting movie project. As she descends into alcoholism and self-loathing, she tells a lover: "I'm a woman who got hurt and instead of getting angry tried to get mellow--but not having the metabolism for mellow she just got cold."

MacIvor lightens this bleakness with wicked wit. As a journalist and later as a movie producer, Alison encounters an actress named Diane Drake. In one hilarious scene, Diane hears about another character's miscarriage. "I was up for something once where that was the situation," Diane says. The memory of "going there" for her audition causes Diane to weep, and suddenly someone else's tragedy is all about her.

Wheeler's performance as Alison is an enormous gift. Exploring every crevice of the character--the suppressed rage, the drunken sentimentality, the woundedness, the joy--Wheeler exposes herself so completely that she feels skinless. And Alexa Dubreuil makes an exemplary Diane. It would be easy to reduce this character through condescending commentary, but Dubreuil keeps her portrait true and close to the chest. I also appreciated Sean Devine's quirky, complex presence as the movie director, Thomas Roman. And Noah Drew makes a charming Richard.

I was less thrilled with Alex Williams, who was flat in the first act as Alison's husband, Jerry. And Marco Soriano doesn't carry enough physical threat to play Justin, the gigolo Alison hooks up with. He's miscast.

On the technical front, I found Joel Etkin's sound design literal and distracting.

But these are relatively minor points. Overall, director Mindy Parfitt, who has just moved here from Montreal, delivers a sophisticated interpretation of a sophisticated work. And both this production and this script are so generous. The ending is a blessing. If compassion waits for Alison, surely it waits for all of us.