The ambiguous lesbian coffee date is a quintessential part of the queer woman’s experience. It goes like this: two women meet over coffee (or perhaps herbal tea), and one or both are unclear on the nature of their meeting. Is it a date? Are they just friends? Will they fuck? Should they rent a U-Haul? Daniel MacIvor’s A Beautiful View plays like a lifelong version of this scenario.
Two 20-something women, known only as M and L, meet in a camping goods store and strike up a conversation about their shared fear of bears. Over the next two decades, they drop in and out of each other’s lives, through a long friendship complicated by a sexual tension neither of them totally understands.
“It’s a kind of existential romp,” says Ross Manson, director of Volcano Theatre’s current production. “It’s both delightfully quirky and startlingly insightful. What should just be silly ends up being heart-wrenching. It’s truly a masterpiece of Canadian theatre.”
First staged in Toronto in 2006, the original production featured MacIvor’s longtime friends and collaborators Caroline Gillis and Tracy Wright. A Beautiful View is the kind of theatre MacIvor has made his signature: plays that use whatever fiction exists within them as a sort of ironic pretence to talk about something larger. In this case, he takes on a near universal subject, that of friendship, which is rarely seen as a subject in drama.
An occasional sticking point for both audiences and critics is how precisely to categorize the play. Like the ambiguous lesbian coffee date, the action reads very differently depending on your perspective. In fact, the question of how to categorize what happens in the play becomes a focal point of the work itself.
“MacIvor understands extremely well that categorizing something can narrow it,” Manson says. “It’s not a queer play, just as it’s not a straight play. It’s a play about love and how indefinable and fragile love between two people can be.”