by Lynn on October 24, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont.

Written and directed by Matthew MacKenzie

Choreographed by Alida Kendell

Set and costumes by Alison Yanota

Lighting by Kaileigh Krysztofiak

Cast: Simon Bracken

Amber Borotsik

Lara Ebata

Bridget Jessome

Richard Lee Hsi

Krista Lin

Rebecca Sadowski

Kate Stashko

Raena Waddell

Writer/director Matthew MacKenzie continues to play with the theatrical form to produce some intriguing, dazzling theatre. In Bears a man on the run morphs into a bear who discourses on Indigenous issues and a dangerous pipeline, in a production seemingly danced and full of movement. In After the Fire the play appears to be about the fires in Fort McMurray but then there is also the exploration of marriage, divorce, an accidental death, a cover up, mystery, the environment and so much more.

The Particulars does a sharp turn again into this compelling, very funny, odd, touching piece. Gordon is in distress. He is still in mourning for his wife who died four years before. His nerves are frayed and his senses are heightened because his house has undergone renovations and there is a residue chemical smell that bothers him. He is assured it will go away in a few days and it still is there several days after the project is completed. And there is the scratching. After he gets ready for bed, prays (Gordon is a regular church-goer) and turns out the light, the scratching begins. It drives him crazy. Is it termites? Squirrels in the walls? He doesn’t know. And his garden has aphids that are eating his flowers. Gordon is a meticulous, successful gardener. He has a flowering orchid! Now that takes gardening ability. He is driven to distraction with all these obstacles in his life. He gets more and more agitated with the various particulars in his story.

Matthew MacKenzie also directs his play. This usually drives me bats because the balance so often is off. Either the playwright writes too much and needs to edit and the director won’t tell him, or the director goes off the deep end with invention and the playwright can’t tell him to rein it in.

The balance between the gifted playwright and director is perfect in The Particulars particularly because Matthew MacKenzie is so attuned with Gordon’s off-centre world.  MacKenzie knows how to weave a compelling story and translate that into Gordon’s lopsided, odd, frustrating world in this bold, arresting, moving production.

Gordon (Simon Bracken) appears out of a group of ‘shrouded’ dancers as he scurries barefoot around the space. He is dressed only in a flimsy dressing gown that is open and barely tied and reveals Gordon is only wearing white underpants. Upon further reflection the dressing gown looks like it might have been a woman’s dressing gown and it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine Gordon is wearing his late wife’s dressing gown to be closer to her. That detail is wonderful and heartbreaking.

Simon Bracken as Gordon wears black-rimmed glasses, has a workman like haircut that is not ‘stylish’ and has a look on his face that is inexpressive. He stares above the audience and does not make eye-contact. His vocal expression is purposefully declarative without much nuance or variation, except to be louder. He speaks slowly and deliberately. His face contorts quite often. The fascinating thing is that how Gordon speaks is at odds with what he says and that juxtaposition is incongruous and incongruity is the basis of humour. The Particulars is initially hilarious until Gordon’s reality sneaks up on you and catches you up short.  Bracken gives a performance of a man who is so odd, so out of contact with people and tenderness and support that your heart goes out to him. While one thinks the performance is almost one noted (deliberately) it is deceptively complex and layered.

The ‘chorus’ of dancers are listed as ‘mourners’ and represent the sounds of the scratching Gordon is hearing; the idea of the aphids attacking his plants; memories of his late wife, etc. They always enhance a scene and never detract. Kudos to choreographer, Alida Kendell.

The Particulars is a masterful piece of work by a gifted playwright and director in Matthew MacKenzie and the equally masterful actor, Simon Bracken.

Punctuate Theatre in association with the Theatre Centre presents:

Began: Oct. 17, 2019.

Closes: Oct. 26, 2019.

Running Time: 75 minutes.

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