By Mel Mouat
Barring test-tube babies and those raised inside of Russian military compounds, everyone has memorable family experiences–some good and some bad. Alberta Theatre Projects’ latest production, Marion Bridge, successfully taps into this fundamental sensibility we all share.
It all boils down to playwright Daniel MacIvor’s heartfelt story of three sisters trying hard to reconnect with each other after a prolonged separation, despite the distance that has grown between them. As much as it may sound like a set up for some serious family bashing, this play does not stoop to ad homonym attacks. Marion Bridge deals with heavy issues like death, but it’s executed with such wise wit.
The first act begins with a poignant, yet comical monologue delivered by the oldest sister, Agnes, who has just returned to her family home in Nova Scotia. Audiences will immediately be drawn to her desperation, understanding her desire to escape the confrontation her visit will no doubt produce.
But its the conflicts bringing the play to life, with the incredibly believable characters. The talent of playwright MacIvor (Marion Bridge was nominated for the Governor General’s award) deftly moves through transitions and, for the most part, the dialogue encapsulates a kind of humanity many playwrights seldomly achieve. Despite the superb writing, the performances from the three stars is what makes the play shine. They have done a superb job, creating characters audiences can relate too.
The central conflict of the story is between the two older sisters, but a smaller sub-plot orbits around the confusion stemming from the younger sister’s sexuality. Louise and Theresa perform monologues akin to the opening of the play, both of which prove to be as touching and funny as the first.
Adding to the disorientation, the disillusionment of the characters is expressed in the surreal set. Disproportionately tall and off-kilter, the set evokes the confusion brought about by the characters’ conflicts within audiences.
Subtly executed with skill and compassion, ATP’s latest project is something anyone can relate to. Even more impressive is how the three actors hold the stage for a full production, never flagging for even a moment–audiences’ attention will be kept just as rapt as it would be for a forty-plus actor Broadway extravaganza. Marion Bridge is a wonderful tale of deliverance and resolution, told with uncanny wit, dignity and poise.