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A CurtainUp Review
In On It
by Les Gutman
In On It is not Henry V, and playwright Daniel MacIvor leans more to Brecht than the Bard, but there are, oddly enough, connections. Ray, the central character of the play within this play, has no regal trappings, but he has a life; MacIvor represents it by way of a mantle, a gray lambs wool jacket. The power of his life, too, rests on a thin reed and, as we are reminded early on, while some aspects of it are carefully planned, things often evolve as they do quite by accident.
There is no mystery or suspense about the accident in which Ray is involved: MacIvor relates it early on, backfilling the details and the buildup. Through two performers, known only as This One (MacIvor) and That One (Darren O'Donnell), we meet Ray (played by both at different times, signified by the donning of the aforementioned jacket) and the essential people in his life: his son, his (for the moment) wife, her lover, his wife and their son.
Truth be told, In On It can be pretty dense. Little here is presented linearly, and the action of the interior play is interrupted by the exterior one, in which This One is collaborating with That One in the writing and performance of the play, and what seems like a third play that suggests that the second one is a fantasia of sorts. But MacIvor's anarchy is deliberate, and one appreciates it fully after giving it time to ferment. His alienation effect, moreover, is not gratuitous: there is a blending of theme onstage, and the intent is that the audience be "in on it". (The title, like much of the rest of the play, is susceptible to multiple interpretations.)
This is our third review of a MacIvor play (the other two are linked below), and it is his most ingenious and perhaps most thoughtful. His method can be traced from one to the other, but in each case is fresh and effective. The whole is significantly more than the sum of its parts, and subsequent rumination only enhances one's appreciation for the force of the work.
This is the first time we have seen MacIvor as actor as well: his laid-back but idiosyncratic performance is integral to the sensibility of the work. His colleague onstage, Mr. O'Donnell, is a perfect match, and possesses about as riveting a pair of eyes as any actor you are likely to see. Both work with a casualness that belies the painstaking detail on display. The duo have been performing this piece together across Canada (and also in the U.S.) for almost a year, and it shows in their symbiotic work.
MacIvor also directs and, as is the case with his writing, the result is sparse, brisk and clean. The same can be set for the sets (nonexistent, except for a pair of chairs) and lighting (which alternates between sharp geometry for the "Ray" scenes and a diffuse ambiance otherwise). Sound design is exceptional, and the show includes effective use of music ranging from Maria Callas to Lesley Gore (the latter prompting a dance that is at once the play's funniest and most poignant moment).
MacIvor arrived in New York inauspiciously, and his work never oozes with "swelling scenes". But there is a depth and universality in his work that is surprising and quite remarkable really. This is theater more than worthy of our attention.
DANIEL MACIVOR LINKS
Never Swim Alone
See Bob Run