Review: ONCE

by Lynn on October 11, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the 1000 Islands Playhouse, Gananoque, Ont. Playing until Oct. 22, 2023.

Music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová

Book by Enda Walsh

Based on the motion picture written and directed by John Carney

Directed and choreographed by Julie Tomaino

Musical direction by Chris Barillaro

Set by Joe Pagnan

Costumes by Ming Wong

Lighting by Michelle Ramsay

Sound by Brian Kenny

Cast: Tyler Check

Sandy Crawley

Vera Deodato

Kevin Forster

Alexa MacDougall

Jon-Alex MacFarlane

Melissa MacKenzie

Em Siobhan McCourt

Brea Oatway

Alex Panneton

Daniel Williston

Juno Wong-Clayton

Seana-Lee Wood

Haneul Yi

A beautiful ache of a musical about love at the wrong time but with the right people.

Girl (Melissa MacKenzie) hears Guy (Tyler Check) busking on the street in Dublin. His song is beautiful and mournful. She compliments him and wants to know for whom he wrote the song. It was a woman who left to go to New York. Girl is on her way to get her vacuum cleaner fixed. It happens that Guy works for his father (Da) fixing vacuum cleaners. Guy fixes Girl’s vacuum cleaner and Guy and Girl find themselves getting closer to each other. He gives her a CD of his songs. She introduces him to her mother and her young daughter (it’s complicated). Guy says that in just a few days, Girl has changed his life. He’s invested in his music again. Girl says that Guy must go to New York to talk to his love there. It’s unfinished business. But there are stronger and stronger feelings between Guy and Girl.  

Director/choreographer, Julie Tomaino has created an exquisite, heartfelt, heartache of a production. As with other productions of Once, it’s deliberate that Girl and Guy to not kiss, or even touch each other, much as the audience wants them to. Julie Tomaino has created looks between Tyler Check as Guy and Melissa MacKenzie as Girl that are subtle, even furtive. At one point Guy and Girl are standing side by side looking out. He looks at her with a look of tenderness though she doesn’t see it, then he looks away back looking out, then Girl looks at him as tenderly. But their eyes don’t catch each other, what one might call an ‘if only’ look. It raises the emotional ante.  (Spoiler alert—director Julie Tomaino does take pity on the audience. While the production might not have Guy and Girl touch each other, at the bow Tyler Check and Melissa MacKenzie take their bow and then, ever so quickly they join hands firmly and then they unclasp their hands. It’s enough to give the audience some kind of emotional release).

As Guy, Tyler Check sings beautifully and with true emotion. He is that quintessential quiet man with deep emotions, grappling with unspoken feelings for his girlfriend in New York, and this new woman who has changed his life for the better in a matter of days. His quietness is compelling. As Girl, Melissa MacKenzie is watchful and somber. She says she never jokes because she is Czech, which is pretty funny in itself. She too sings beautifully. The performances for the whole production are lovely, lively, vibrant and briming with heart.

Joe Pagnan has created a stylish set that has a guitar motif. Guy plays the guitar so there are echoes of that around the set. There is a circle above with what look like strings going over it; panels are suspended above that look like frets of a guitar neck; the floor is of wood.

Once is that special kind of theatre that tells a simple story with elegance, humour, tenderness, wit, and open-hearted generosity.  And of course, you should see it, ideally more than once.

Thousand Islands Playhouse presents:

Plays until Oct. 22, 2023

Running time: 2 hours (1 intermission)

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