2 min

Daily tumult

McIvor injects humour into angst

STRONG ENSEMBLE. Allan Hawco and Caroline Gillis in Daniel MacIvor's You Are Here. Credit: Xtra files

You Are Here, a new play written and directed by the prolific Daniel MacIvor, is MacIvor at his very, very best.

All of his trademarks are present: a simple black box set; direct addresses to the audience; unexpected bursts of humour; the posing of big questions (in this case about life, death, love, language and creativity); and, at the centre of it all, actor Caroline Gillis, a favourite MacIvor collaborator.

Gillis plays Alison, a once high-minded journalist, whose career has been reduced to writing celebrity profiles. She explains this, somewhat sheepishly, seated alone on stage, beautifully lit by Andy Moros.

As she begins to talk, various characters from her life appear.

There’s her best friend Richard (Jim Allodi), an aimless charmer; Connie Hoy (Marjorie Chan), Alison’s sweater-set clad nemesis; Jerry (David Jansen), Alison’s psychologist-turned-screenwriter husband; Diane (Fiona Highet), a deceptively flaky actress; and Thomas (Randy Hughson), a pretentious art house film director and Alison’s sometimes lover.

Using flashbacks to tell the story of Alison’s life, the play sets out to explore the possibility of happiness and love. Alison doesn’t seem to have much luck with either, at least not that she recognizes. There’s an unrequited crush on a failed university professor, followed by her romance with Jerry, a passion that’s quickly dampened by the familiarity and dailyness of marriage.

When a tragedy strikes the already soured relationship, Alison desperately throws herself into a new project, using her connections to produce a film written by Jerry, a second-rate, unintentionally funny script about a disturbed young man. When that fails, too, her life goes into an even steeper spiral.

Yet, throughout all the tumult, it’s Richard who emerges as Alison’s soul mate and anchor – and although Alison cares for him she doesn’t realize the profoundness of the connection until the very end. MacIvor, so deeply cynical about love, finds sustenance, grace, redemption and even true love in platonic friendship – a form of relationship that is woefully under-examined in art.

Like most of his work, MacIvor’s You Are Here depends largely on subtext and subtlety, demanding intelligence and a deft touch from its performers. This cast abounds in both, with performances that are uniformly excellent. Gillis is captivating as Alison, even in her stillness she’s mesmerizing. Highet and Hughson bring out every nuance of their characters. Jansen manages to evoke sympathy for the thoroughly self-absorbed Jerry and Allodi, another MacIvor regular, is brilliant playing an over-privileged failure.

The only false step, and unfortunately it’s a glaring one, is Alison’s descent into junkiedom in the second act – a development that is both unlikely and overwrought.

Otherwise, the play is deeply moving, bitingly funny and intelligently directed. You Are Here is not only one of MacIvor’s best plays, but a rare dramatic journey that is as challenging and devastating as it is satisfying.

You Are Here continues at Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Ave) until Sun, Oct 7; show times are at 8pm till Saturday, 2:30pm on Saturday and Sunday, and the final show is at 7pm on Sunday; call (416) 504-7529.