Thursday, September 27, 2012


“It is not exactly factually autobiographical. It is emotionally autobiographical.”

David French

Alistair MacLeod's No Great Mischief, currently running at Tarragon Theatre, is a very moving and precariously joyful journey concerning the semi-fictional lives of the MacDonald clan. Through a series of scenes that move back and forth between past and present encounters, R.H. Thomson and David Fox lead a stellar cast of characters, against all odds, toward a strangely life-affirming end. Fox runs the gamut of emotions with superb vocal skill and physicalization. One scene has him seated beside Thomson during an explosive narrative moment that reads like a gorgeous example of modern dance theatre as two powerful masculine bodies  deliver impeccable emotion, then fall silent long enough to render a memorable and moving tableau.

Mike Ross (composer) and Todd Charlton (sound designer) have orchestrated a series of wonderful musical interludes and tumultuous sound effects that punctuate the closeness of a family and a community struggling to survive. Playing multiple roles, the ensemble sings, dances, and acts their way in and out of a variety of familial dysfunctions that reveal the tight knit, topsy turvy world of a clan the playwright considers to be "the Celtics football team of their time...the big team [who] really affected history, because if they would go, or wouldn't go, or would support you or not support you, it would change things."

J.D. Nicholsen and John Dolan as the grandfathers are diverse studies in paternal order. Their presence in the ensemble moves seamlessly in and out of minor roles, always veering skillfully back toward the strong, distinct symbols of grandfatherly grace and love that holds the family together. 

Ben Irvine's California cousin brings an energy to the second act that raises the stakes and moves spectators toward a powerful, double-edged realization that our American cohorts have played multi-faceted and wildly entertaining parts in our collective Canadian lives. Irvine's rendition of The Times they are a Changin', with the aid of the entire ensemble, exemplifies the immaculately directed, choreographed sequences that bring a powerful musical subtext to the overall piece. Director Richard Rose, with the aid of Charlotte Dean's beautifully evocative set and costumes, has created a truly inventive and powerful collection of scenes that rely upon a form of performance oriented theatrical strategies that utilize the stage as a kind of studio/workshop for the exploration of complex familial interaction.

Stephen Guy-McGrath and Daniel Giverin provide further diversity through music, dance and secondary characterization that rounds out the troupe with physical and vocal diversity and flair. 

Nicola Lipman, as the lone feminine presence, is strong throughout, and has a powerful and moving scene with R.H. Thomson so skillfully written and performed that it becomes one of those bittersweet life affirming moments that teaches spectators so much about memory, love, and aging.

In an upstairs room at Tarragon, until the end of this month, a tribute to David French speaks multitudes on the heritage so many Canadian playwrights have crafted from their lives and the lives around them. One quote rings true for so much great drama. As French has said about his own dramaturgy chronicling the lives of The Mercer family - “It is not exactly factually autobiographical. It is emotionally autobiographical.” Both French and MacLeod have mastered the art of storytelling in the theatre in a multi-facted way that embraces a kind of universalized heritage that bears the marks of a distinctly 'Canadian' experience - as that experience draws from a variety of cultural truths and semi-fictions.  

No Great Mischief runs until October 21st

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