By Daniel MacIvor. Directed by Roy Surette. Produced by Wing & Prayer Productions. At the Kay Meek Centre on Thursday, September 6. Continues until September 20
If they know it at all, theatre-goers probably know Marion Bridge from Allister MacGillivray’s “Song for the Mira”. Popularized by Anne Murray in the early ’80s, it’s a Cape Breton anthem that offers “I’ll trade you 10 of your cities for Marion Bridge and the pleasure it brings.”
The three sisters at the centre of Daniel MacIvor’s Marion Bridge are haunted by an early family visit to that landmark. It was a day out that turned sour, and that sourness seems to infect the family all these years later.
Agnes (Lynda Boyd), Theresa (Nicola Cavendish), and Louise (Beatrice Zeilinger) have gathered in their family home to care for their dying mother and re-adjudicate old feuds.
Agnes is a hot mess. She claims to be an actor, but confesses that it’s just “a very expensive, time-consuming, and demoralizing hobby”. She’s also probably an alcoholic. There are a number of great acting lessons in this production. One of these is the restraint with which Boyd plays being drunk. Her Agnes is all energetic lies. She talks mostly to convince herself of what she’s saying.
Nicola Cavendish is as much a Canadian legend as the bridge itself. I’ve always admired the creativity and specificity of her performances. There’s a small moment in a monologue where she makes this unorthodox gesture with a prop—a little bag of notes from her mother. It’s both unexpected and perfect.
Louise is taciturn, but she gets the funniest lines. She wouldn’t know this concept, but Louise isn’t self-actualized. We never understand why, but she’s stunted. Zeilinger galumphs around the stage, revealing how her Louise is deeply uncomfortable in her own skin.
If parents never died, their children would have nothing to write about. Mothers dying just off-stage are a familiar trope, and MacIvor’s play is very conventional in its structure and source material. Yet it’s become a contemporary Canadian classic for good reasons. It’s gentle and funny and full of small truths.
If the performers and the text were sublime, the production was less so. Director Roy Surette seemed unsure of how to think about the show’s Cape Bretonness. Tiko Kerr’s set—a canvas false proscenium, a few walls, and a mish-mash of furniture—seemed generically Canadian. There was barely a hint of a Nova Scotian accent among the actors. The music between scenes was Celtic—the Rankin Family, maybe?—but it took no risks.
Marion Bridge might be better served by doing less. Cavendish, Boyd, and Zeilinger could have kept us rapt with just a kitchen table and three chairs.