Play within play shows two sides to each story
Two Daniels take humorous look at perception in Warehouse offering
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Peter’s stage entrance isn’t promising. Clad in a wrinkled black suit, an equally creased pink shirt and a sequined ball cap, the 60-ish man seems unprepared, barking at the lighting tech and fretting over the misplacement of his props, which include a bass guitar and a blown-up photo of a cat.
Of course, Peter is played by Canadian theatre veteran Daniel MacIvor in his latest solo work, so we know the disorganized vibe is intentional. Peter is a man whose “Let’s put on a show!” energy is being subverted by some personal issues. But he wants to tell us a story, his story, his way.
And his way begins by letting someone else do the telling. Donning a string of amber beads, he reads from what he tells us is an unpublished memoir, pausing to utter corrections or rebuttals of the unnamed author’s interpretation of events as she recalls abducting a young boy as he leaves a small-town carnival.
It gradually becomes clear that the writer is his mother, who slipped in and out of his life after relinquishing him to foster care at birth. His abduction was temporary, a week in a motel before she returned him, but not before instilling in him a love of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, which she read aloud to him.
Like Woolf’s seminal work, Let’s Run Away addresses the nature of perception and subjectivity — Peter’s mother remembers their encounters differently than he does, and he is at pains to contradict the way the audience might perceive him, often humorously undermining our potential pity.
The spotlight shifts, literally, when Peter tells us things from his perspective. His life is a precarious one. He has worked in a circus and on the gay club circuit. Sometimes he lives in motels, sometimes under a bridge, for a time in his social worker’s basement.
The intentionally imperfect lighting cues are perfectly executed (Kimberly Purcell is the lighting designer), and their simplicity is deceptively effective.
Let’s Run Away, the second show of the Warehouse season, has a bit of a fringe festival flavour, a feeling that is bolstered by Peter’s slapdash delivery, the sparse set and very short runtime (advertised at 80 minutes, opening night’s show was closer to 70, with no intermission). Its meta concept — it’s a play about a man putting on a play — sometimes undercuts its emotional impact, but MacIvor’s performance is compelling and director/dramaturg Daniel Brooks creates some memorable moments, as when Peter lip syncs to his mother reading from In the Lighthouse or performs from behind a venetian blind.
Peter is an irascible character, prone to outbursts and filled with nervous energy; his mannerisms and repetition of certain phrases indicate he might be on the autism spectrum.
He’s also a sensitive soul, eager to please, eager to set the story straight, even as he struggles with ideas of what “straight” even is, when we all contain so many narratives. (The soundtrack of his life swings from the Sex Pistols to Moon River.)
Peter has suffered abandonment and a lack of care; MacIvor captures his vulnerability and loss, but never makes him a victim. The playwright’s gift is to remind us that no one’s life can be reduced to a single sentence.
Senior copy editor
Jill Wilson writes about culture and the culinary arts for the Arts & Life section.