Finally. Got out to see my first SummerWorks show last night: Daniel MacIvor’s I, Animal – directed by Richie Wilcox and produced by KAZAN CO-OP – at the Factory Theatre mainspace, where I bumped into Alumnae Theatre pals Anne Harper and Brenda Somers, who were there volunteering at the box office.
I, Animal is a series of three monologues, set everywhere and nowhere in that the set (designed by Victoria Marston, with lighting design by Ingrid Risk, doing double duty as stage manager) is not a space that reflects everyday reality. Consisting of an upstage centre floor to ceiling vertical panel of crumpled foil, indented with crater-like openings, with a panel of gauze-like fabric in front of it, the set creates a all-purpose playing space through which the characters move and in which each pauses to tell his or her story, shifting back and forth from past to present as the monologue unfolds. Theatrical as opposed to realistic. The soundscapes (sound design by Aaron Collier) shift as well, from character to character. As the audience enters the theatre, there is a light layer of fog hovering above the stage floor, drifting over light and shadow – and as the play progressed, I had the impression that we were both gazing at the moon and on the moon.
“Man in Scrubs” (Antonio Cayonne) appears with a leash, his dog off frolicking and mounting other dogs. As a queer male nurse of colour with a limited bank account, this is a young man who has an extremely broad – and personal – experience of the social and professional pecking order, and the nuances therein. Normally a good-humoured, decent and tolerant guy, he finds his patience and good nature pushed to the limit while out at dinner with a group of gay male colleagues, where the hierarchy – and socially enforced homogenization – of the pack becomes unbearable and forces him to challenge the leader. And when he strikes out, we understand even if we don’t agree. You are what you say you are – no one else can own or define you.
“Boy in hoodie” (Stewart Legere) is a high school student who digs death metal and photographing cats. Seems he thinks about death a lot, fascinated by it even, but his musings are more of a curious, philosophical nature than morbid. With a reasonably good relationship with his mom and step-dad, the latter who he calls by his first name and with whom he shares regular “conversation” (a personal euphemism for smoking weed), this kid has gained a dubious reputation over a photograph of a dead cat. This evokes revulsion and morbid curiosity among his friends and classmates at his new high school, including a popular cheerleader. Did he kill the cat? Following an encounter with the cheerleader, he decides that he can choose to create the reality of himself in the eyes of others based on what he tells them – defining himself by his words and not by his actions, he will be the author of his own identity.
“Woman in Prada” (Kathryn MacLellan, also the producer along with costume designer/co-producer and sister Janet MacLellan) has left her friends, including her younger boyfriend, at the villa where they’ve been vacationing. Having grown up a city girl in a time when city living didn’t have the level of amenities it has now, she became a suburban housewife – domesticated – and, having since left that marriage and situation, now finds herself adrift. An attractive, sensual woman who adores living the good life, and with money of her own, she is well-aware of the importance of social optics and is deeply concerned that acting on her desire to be with a younger man will make her appear foolish. Hurtful words from a friend force her to choose between doing what makes her happy and what other people think she should be doing.
The two male monologues are the strongest of the piece in terms of the writing, and the cast does a lovely job of shading these characters’ vulnerability and frustration, all tempered with humour – real, raw, funny and smart. Cayonne does a nice job of revealing his character’s rage, at first relatively contained then exploding to the surface, and finally withdrawing in shock, trying to make sense of his actions. Legere gives us many levels of a youth on the brink of manhood, fascinated by death yet savouring life while trying to eke out an identity in the jungle social hierarchy that is high school. And MacLellan’s Prada lady is equal parts brassy and broken, outspoken but secretly afraid of what people might think, pacing like a gorgeous caged cat as she tries to make sense of her life.
Just look at that moon. In I, Animal the image of the moon, both a call of the wild and a soothing, magical element – masculine and feminine – and the concept of identity are the through-lines, the links that connect the three individual pieces. Howl at it. Explore it. Wish upon it. On the way home, I looked up at the sky.
For more info on playwright Daniel MacIvor, check out his website: http://www.danielmacivor.com/
And you can find KAZAN CO-OP here: http://www.kazanco-op.com/