by Lynn on November 2, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Marilyn and Charles Baillie Theatre, (Formerly the Berkeley Street Theatre, Downstairs) Toronto, Ont.

Written and performed by Daniel MacIvor

Directed and dramaturged by Daniel Brooks.

Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

Sound by Deanna H. Choi

The Story.  A man receives a manuscript from his birth mother, her amber necklace and a notable guitar. We learn late in the story that his name is Peter. He is going to give a public reading of the few parts of his mother’s thick manuscript of her memoir that pertains to him. He’s had a challenging life. He was put up for adoption and bounced from foster homes. He accidentally met his mother when she picked him up hitchhiking. She sent him four books in his life but he never wrote her to acknowledge them. One was “To the Lighthouse” by Virginia Woolf. He made a career doing shows in which he lip-synched to a recording of the book.

The Production.  There are two stand-microphones stage left and stage right. There is a lectern in front of the microphone stage right. Upstage centre there is a window frame with a closed blind. There are other things upstage that are movable.

When the theatre goes to black Kimberly Purtell’s lights snap up bright on the whole stage—no slow fade up, but a sharp snap to full light. A man (Daniel MacIvor) we learn later is named Peter, enters quickly from the stage left wing. He carries a cloth bag, a painting of a large cat and a long guitar case. He wears a sequined baseball cap, a jacket, an orange shirt, dark pants and trainers with a strip of orange around the heel. Peter waves at the audience and immediately is distracted and aggravated because things are not where he intended. “I told them to put it on the right!” he says to himself twice out loud so we can hear, as he puts the painting of the cat on something to hold it stage left. The ‘joke’ of course is that he means house left and right as he faces the stage.  I suck air very, very slowly.

Peter lays down the guitar case stage left near the painting. He goes to the lectern stage right and carefully takes out the thick manuscript that is wrapped in colourful cloth material from the cloth bag and carefully unwraps the manuscript on the lectern. At times he indicates by flipping his hands to some technician in some booth above the audience to bring the lights down and they come down except for a spot around him and the lectern. Later he flips his hands to indicate to the technician to put the lights up across the stage at the other microphone, stage left. He seems aggravated when he has to do that. He stamps his foot (again ill-tempered) and the lights pop up where he stands.

Peter says he’ll read only the parts of the memoir that pertain to him. We learn Peter’s mother only refers to him by name once. He puts on his reading glasses. He puts on the amber necklace (I guess to indicate he is reading his mother’s words). When he finishes reading a passage he takes off the necklace and glasses. (There is one time he is reading her words but does not put on the necklace. Is this significant to the character? An error on the part of MacIvor? Dunno.)

At times Peter comments in an irritated aside when his mother got facts wrong. He then goes to the stage left side of the stage to the other microphone to give his side of the story his mother wrote about. It’s as if the two sides of the stories are separate and distinct. There is no indication of “now I’ll tell you my side of the story.”  Only when he mentions information that is similar to that mentioned in the manuscript do we realize he is telling his version of it.

A few times Peter goes upstage behind the window and slowly pulls the cord to open the blind, revealing himself there. A woman’s English accented voice (Fiona Highet) plays out as she talks about the Ramsay family and their dinner. Peter mouths the words the woman is saying…this is Peter lip-synching to a recording of “To the Lighthouse” by Virginia Woolf. (It helps if one is familiar with the book to know what is going on there)

Comment.  Daniel MacIvor is a masterful storyteller. He weaves intricate information to create complex characters telling multi-layered stories. Let’s Run Away is his most challenging solo show yet because it starts in the middle without explanation and meanders all over the place without anchoring us in any sense of the story for a lot of it. It’s to MacIvor’s credit and our respect for him as a storyteller that one hangs on listening to and trying to make sense of Let’s Run Away, because quite frankly it’s a confusing mess. It’s one thing to  respect an artist whose work we know and hang in there, it’s quite another to stay the course with a character who we don’t know and don’t care about. We have to wait a long time to find out who Peter is. We never find out who his mother is and why she needs to write a memoir or why she referenced him so infrequently and why we have to listen to her comments since she didn’t actually know him.

And while director Daniel Brooks’ input is so present and obvious the resulting technically complicated production is disingenuous and, dare one say it, pretentious. And really, are we supposed to believe a character who does shows lip-synching a book but doesn’t know enough stage craft to know the difference between stage right and stage left and house right and left? And this character is presenting a show so technologically complex he has to wave at a technician to put the lights up and down with the flip of his hands and be aggravated when he has to do it? All for a laugh? Really?

Maybe MacIvor is experimenting with form—not presenting a story with a beginning, middle and end. Fine. It’s not working.

Presented by Canadian Stage

Opened: Nov. 1, 2019.

Closes: Nov. 17, 2019.

Running Time: 80 minutes, no intermission.

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1 Keith Perrott November 10, 2019 at 6:37 am

I was relieved and encouraged to come across a review that put into words what I was feeling. The character Peter states emphatically “I don’t want your pity”. Why would he? He’s so filled with self-pity there isn’t room or the need for more. Bitterness and self-indulgence can play a pivotal role in a production. Sadly in “Let’s Run Away” they ARE the play. It certainly is not without merit, and MacIvor remains a singular reason to attend a play. Just not this one.