Alberta Theatre Projects
Starring Valerie Planche, Elinor Holt and Katherine Sanders
Written by Daniel MacIvor
Directed by Pamela Halstead
Runs until April 16
Martha Cohen Theatre (Epcor Centre)
Next to the crazily dysfunctional families in his solo shows Monster and House, the sisters in Daniel MacIvors Marion Bridge are pretty much normal folks. Sure, the oldest is a borderline alcoholic who had a child out of wedlock, the middle one is an emotionally repressed nun and the youngest is fixated on TV and trucks, but, hey, isnt that your average Catholic Cape Breton clan?
First produced in 1998 and dedicated to his own four sisters, Marion Bridge is probably the Sydney-born MacIvors most traditional play. Whereas the solos we know him for are nightmarishly comic glimpses into twisted minds, complete with Byzantine narratives, this is a straightforward, naturalistic comedy-drama about three women who must come to terms with their own lives as they face the death of their terminally ill mother. It may also be his most popular play now, thanks to his 2003 screen adaptation. But while the film was dark and dominated by a pensive Molly Parker as Agnes, the play is funnier and gives the other two sisters equal weight. And MacIvor, that master of the monologue, provides each woman with a self-revealing soliloquy that brings us closer to understanding her.
Its both a humorous and heartfelt work, but Pamela Halsteads new production at Alberta Theatre Projects, while it contains some fine acting, fails to plumb the plays emotional depths and provide us with a moving experience as well as an entertaining one.
Valerie Planches vice-ridden Agnes, the sister who moved to big, bad Toronto to be an actor, and Elinor Holts holier-than-thou Theresa, a nun in a New Brunswick farming order, are the sisterly adversaries here, clashing loudly (and amusingly) until it becomes clear that both are suffering doubts and disappointments over the paths theyve chosen. Their tuned-out baby sister Louise (Katherine Sanders), well aware that shes been typecast as the "strange" one, avoids the fray by losing herself in television programs, but as it happens shes got her share of resentments to cough up, too.
Planche gives us a down-to-earth Agnes who quickly loses her few big-city affectations when she arrives home, while Holts plain, thin, sunken-eyed Theresa appears to have been playing the suffering saint a little too long. Sanders more than holds her own as a lumpy, grumpy, possibly lesbian Louise, who looks more awkward in a skirt than a novice drag queen, but gleams with enthusiasm when describing to us her transcendent feelings behind the wheel on a long drive.
Still, Sanders and Holts performances could use a dash of Maritimes salt Planches Toronto-based Agnes actually speaks with more of a Maritimers cadence than these women who havent left the East Coast. And the offstage sound bites from Louises favourite TV series, a ludicrously convoluted soap opera called Ryans Cove, are stiff and phoney even by soap standards.
Jenifer Darbellays costumes, on the other hand, are not only credible but tell us much about the characters, while the familys dreary kitchen, designed and lit by Scott Reid, gives us a good sense of their lower-middle-class background although how anyone could put up with mustard-coloured cabinets and bile-green walls, Ill never know.
And now, the public service announcement: If youre planning to see Marion Bridge, consider taking in the special performance on Sunday, April 10 at 7:30 p.m. Its a pay-what-you-can fundraiser, with all proceeds going to the Actors Fund of Canada, which provides emergency assistance to ill and indigent theatre artists.