By Mel Mouat
Alienation and insecurities are certainly nothing new for today’s nuclear family. Family-induced angst is perfectly commonplace, the basis for practically every soap opera in existence. Marion Bridge, however, claims not to contain any of the false sentiment or sappy nuances of daytime specials, striving for the painful realism many experience in dealing with their families.
Alberta Theatre Projects’ latest production, Marion Bridge, written by Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor and nominated for a Governor General award, follows three sisters coming to grips with each other and their mother’s illness as they attempt to answer the age old question: Can you come home?
When Agnes MacKeigan (Valerie Planche), the oldest, returns from Toronto to her home in Cape Breton, tempers flare and old secrets are brought to light. The three sisters have not seen each other in some time and have grown apart to the point beyond understanding. Agnes is concerned the youngest daughter Louise (Katherine Saunders) has no life beyond the television set, while middle sister Theresa (Elinor Holt) worries over Agnes’ refusal to confront her drinking problem. As the three women try to move beyond the pressure of their mother’s illness and reconnect with one another, they come to realize, blood is still thicker than water. It’s a dynamic going beyond the stage, bleeding into the lives of the actresses who take on their roles.
“What amazes me is the sister dynamic that I learn about doing plays like this,” says Sanders of her relationship with the cast.
“The reality of is that, deep down, we’re way more alike then we sometimes like to admit,” agrees Holt. “And the things you hate in others can sometimes tend to be things you don’t like much about yourself either and you’re just picking it up. These three sisters are very distinct and very different at first glance when you first meet them. But deep down, they’re very much alike.”
It goes deeper than the similarity of three fictitious sisters, speaking as much to the connections of Calgary’s theatre community, as to the common bonds of bitterness and parental angst.
“I’ve never felt a more supportive room,” says Planche, whose previous collaborations with Holt and personal connection to Sanders through Calgary’s theatre scene inform her work. “I feel like they’re friends, like we can fall apart or whatever.”
Marion Bridge is a play about strong women, whether they realize it or not, and the attempt to find genuine truth behind the familiar facades of family and acceptance. It’s an exciting look at women fufilling the potential in a production where women are more than simply marginalized heroines.