Whether it’s Meryl Streep near perfection in Sophie’s Choice or Keanu Reeves a bumbling mess in Dracula, the ability to pull off an accent can make or break an actor’s performance. Luckily for Anthony MacMahon, landing a correct Irish brogue for his part in Conor McPherson’s This Lime Tree Bower was a cinch. Though he was born and raised in Saskatoon, much of his family hails from the Emerald Isle.
“My dad had emigrated to Canada when he was 19, but I still had a lot of contact with my extended family growing up,” the recent Toronto transplant says. “It was easy for me to imitate their accents. And clarifying some of the slang in the play was as simple as sending a text message to my cousins.”
MacMahon plays Joe, a 17-year-old ball of naive hormones. His older brother Frank (Matt Gorman) concocts a plan to rob the local bookie in an attempt to save their family’s ailing fish-and-chips shop. Ray (Gray Powell, fresh off the Shaw Festival stage), a hard-drinking junior professor with a penchant for banging his students, gets pulled into the mix when he accidently becomes part of Frank’s robbery plan.
Joe’s story centres on his struggle with a possible sexual attraction to Damien, the chain-smoking tough guy recently transferred to his school.
“It’s that kind of sexuality kids have where it’s tough to tell something is platonic or sexual,” MacMahon says. “I don’t know if I would say he’s gay or bi, but he’s definitely questioning. He’s had this horrible, repressive upbringing at an all-boys Catholic school. He doesn’t know anything about how sex works, so when he does encounter girls, he doesn’t know what to do.”
Though MacMahon describes his own family as fairly liberal, the restrictive nature of Joe’s life was easy to tap into. A product of Saskatchewan’s Catholic school system, he had a front-row seat on just how problematic religious education can be.
“We didn’t have any real sex education, and so of course, you had kids getting pregnant,” he says. “When they did come out as gay they were told their feelings were wrong. It’s a medieval, backward form of education.”