Mystery & memory in the delightfully whimsical, darkly funny, compelling DIANA (I Knew You When We Were Fourteen)

Ian Goff & Alexa Higgins. Photo by Barry McCluskey.

 

Falling Iguana Theatre Co., in association with The Centre for Drama, Theatre & Performance Studies (CDTPS), University of Toronto, presents the delightfully whimsical, darkly funny and compelling DIANA (I knew you when you were fourteen), by Falling Iguana co-founders Alexa Higgins and Ian Goff, with contributing playwright Sarah Higgins. A physical theatre, dark comedy mystery journey—weaving movement, memory, fantasy, fact and fiction in a fairy tale-like detective story—when Diana disappears after a high school dance, Michael is determined to find out what happened to her. Supported by consulting director Gillian Armstrong and dramaturg Sharisse LeBrun, DIANA opened for a short run in the Robert Gill Theatre at U of T last night—presented as this year’s CDTPS Alumni Performance Project.

Inspired by a footnote at the end of Michael Ondaatje’s poem Elimination Dance that read: “Diana Whitehouse, where are you?”, DIANA traces the individual paths of high school classmates Diana (Alexa Higgins) and Michael (Ian Goff) as they grow into adulthood—with Michael determined to find out what happened to Diana when she disappeared after a high school dance when they were in grade nine. Stretching out across the years, across Canada from small-town New Brunswick, to Vancouver, to Toronto—with side trips in Europe—we’re introduced to the cast of characters they cross paths with; all set to a sparkly, rockin’ 80s soundtrack.

Fact, fiction, fantasy and memory intertwine in a tale that is part dark comedy mystery and part fairy tale. Incorporating music, dance, movement and a cast of characters, we watch Michael investigate as gossip and recollection merge in the stories and perceptions about Diana and her parents. And we see events unfold from Diana’s perspective; confirming, denying and refining what people think they know about her and her family. Darkly funny, at times tender and compelling, lyrical and balletic, the audience gets caught up in both journeys as Michael searches for the truth, and Diana reaches out for a life away from the small-town rumour, judgement and assumptions about her and her parents.

Outstanding work from Higgins and Goff in this 60-minute marathon of storytelling; conveying character, emotion, action and place through monologue, dialogue, dance, movement and practically zero props/set pieces with energy and precision. Higgins brings a sardonic sense of humour with an edge of loneliness to the pragmatic, restless Diana. An enigmatic presence at school—which is what draws Michael to her—Diana struggles with flying under the radar of the small-town gaze while at the same time longing to break free. Goff is delightfully awkward, earnest and curious as Michael; unlike Diana, Michael is an open book, and his sharp focus and positive demeanour keep him on his mission to find Diana, in spite of his own personal heartbreak. And the two are hilarious as honeymooning couple Steve and Sarah; experiencing comic misadventure during a tandem bike tour around Paris. And as assorted elderly and/or gossiping neighbours, telling tall tales of the family who used to live in that house.

Memory can really be a funny thing; and can often say more about us than about the actual events we’re recalling. Tainted by judgement and assumption, and eroded by time, we may not really know what we think we know.

DIANA continues at the Robert Gill Theatre until September 15, with evening performances at 8pm, and matinées at 2pm on Sept 14 and 15; tickets available online or at the door.

Advertisements

Nostalgia meets the ghosts of memory in the funny, poignant, authentically human New Magic Valley Fun Town

Caroline Gillis, Andrew Moodie, Daniel MacIvor & Stephanie MacDonald. Set design by Brian Perchaluk. Costume design by Brenda McLean. Lighting design by Kimberly Purtell. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

 

Prairie Theatre Exchange and Tarragon Theatre join forces to present the Toronto premiere of Daniel MacIvor’s New Magic Valley Fun Town, directed by Richard Rose, assisted by Audrey Dwyer; opening last night in the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace. Equal parts funny and poignant, it’s an authentically human story of nostalgia and ghosts of the past as the kitchen party reunion between two childhood friends reveals some unwelcome memories.

In small-town Nova Scotia, cancer survivor Dougie (Daniel MacIvor) lives in a spotless double-wide trailer, separated from his wife Cheryl (Caroline Gillis), who’s stayed in their family home in town. Their young adult daughter Sandy (Stephanie MacDonald) is on a break from her English lit thesis to manage some mental health issues. Dougie is anxiously awaiting the arrival of Allen (Andrew Moodie), a friend from childhood and one of the few Black residents of the town back in the day, who moved on to become an English professor at U of T.

Dougie and Allen haven’t seen each other for 35 years, and their reunion—initially rife with awkward excitement, vintage music, drinking and dancing—takes a dark turn as painful, secret memories emerge. Dougie is dealing with his sense of mortality and Allen needs to get something off his chest; and lifelong feelings of deep-seated anger, shame and longing bubble to the surface.

Daniel-MacIvor-and-Andrew-Moodie-in-New-Magic-Valley-Fun-Town-photo-by-Cylla-von-Tiedemann-1024x690
Daniel MacIvor & Andrew Moodie. Set design by Brian Perchaluk. Costume design by Brenda McLean. Lighting design by Kimberly Purtell. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Beautiful performances from this ensemble, enacting a marathon of emotional experience and responses. MacIvor is a compelling, high-energy presence as the tightly wound Dougie; obsessively neat and wanting things to be perfect for Allen, Dougie appears to have channelled his nervous energy into preparations for the visit—but we learn that this behaviour pre-dates his cancer diagnosis, going back to adolescence. Moodie’s calm, introspective Allen is equally gripping; perfectly complementing the frenetic Dougie, the emotionally contained Allen is bursting with the buried feelings of distant, disturbing memories—memories that are excavated and brought to the surface during this fateful visit, and intersect with his experience of being Black in a small town.

Gillis is loveably quirky and as the cheerful, attentive Cheryl; a protective wife and mother who’s at a loss as to how to help her husband and daughter, her positive demeanour masks the pain within, and she finds solace and community in the local Catholic church. MacDonald gives a hilariously playful, irreverent and sweetly poignant performance as Sandy; a post-grad student with the heart of a poet, Sandy is navigating her own illness, even as she continues to reach out to connect with her ailing father.

The classic 70s vintage vibe of Brian Perchaluk’s set design and Don Benedictson’s original music and sound design (those of a certain age were singing along with the pre-show tunes) combine nicely with Brenda McLean’s modern-day costume design, and the realism and cathartic magic of Kim Purtell’s lighting.

Each of these characters is reaching out for connection from a place of profound aloneness. And, while the deeper meaning of the titular amusement park of childhood memory is revealed—not new, magic, a valley, fun or a town—there’s strength and resilience in the present, and hope for the future, as these characters move towards light and closure.

New Magic Valley Fun Town continues in the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace until March 31; get advance tickets online or contact the box office at 416-531-1827.

A funny & moving journey that entertains & inspires – Alison Wearing’s Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter

Fairy's DaughterPlaywright/actor/author Alison Wearing’s one-woman show Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter: Growing Up with a Gay Dad, expanded and published as a full-length book last year, is currently running at U of T’s George Ignatieff Theatre as part of World Pride 2014 Toronto. And I was so happy to be able to catch it last night!

Co-created by Wearing and director Stuart Cox, Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter has been re-imagined for this Pride run, with the assistance of Calvin B. Grant’s multimedia and sound design – together creating a magical experience of memoir and storytelling.

Taking us on a journey through her ‘normal’ childhood in Peterborough, Wearing shares memories and events around her Dad coming out when she was 12 – and the subsequent emotional fall-out, and reorganization of family and home life when her parents divorced. Each scene is accompanied by projected images of family photos, and a soundtrack of both her and father’s favourite music, creating a sense of familiarity as we get to know Wearing and the world and people she grew up with.

Wearing is a highly engaging storyteller, shifting with ease through each vignette, and moving in and out of the various characters in her story, deftly performing childhood variations of herself and her friend Jessica, as well as both her parents. And as she progresses into young adulthood, we get the sense that this journey has been as much about self-discovery for her as it was for her father.

Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter is a funny, moving journey of revelation and discovery – and ultimately understanding and acceptance – that both entertains and inspires.

You have two more chances to see Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter: today (Sat, June 28) at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Wearing is available after performances for book signings or just to say “hi.” Go see this.

In the meantime, check out Shelagh Rogers’ interview with Wearing and her dad on CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter.

And have a peek at the trailer for Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter:

 

World Pride 2014 Toronto event teaser: Alison Wearing’s Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter

Fairy's DaughterPlaywright/actor/author Alison Wearing adapted her memoir Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter: Growing Up with a Gay Dad into the award-winning one-woman show Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter, which will be featured during World Pride 2014 Toronto at U of T’s George Ignatieff Theatre (June 25-28).

Written as a comic monologue, Wearing takes us along on her journey of discovery and coming to grips with her father coming out when she was 12.

“Balancing intimacy, history and downright hilarity, this is a story of birthday parties and bath house raids, confusion and closets, scandals and soufflés, disco and opera, and the triumphant music of love.”

This is a show you will not want to miss – so best reserve your tickets for Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter now.

In the meantime, check out Shelagh Rogers’ interview with Wearing and her dad on CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter.

And have a peek at the trailer for Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter: