Marion Bridge

Local Arts Reviews

Marion Bridge: Tectonic Plates Shifting

Hyde Park Theatre,

through June 8

Running Time: 2 hrs

Home. It's where the heart is, where they have to take you in, and where things never change. Never. No matter how many years you've been away or how old you get, inside the family domicile you start behaving the way you did when you grew up there, and your relations do the same. Familiar routines and idiosyncrasies of days gone by reassert themselves -- the constantly clinking spoon in the coffee cup, the glazed stare at the television, the niggling insinuations that your life isn't all it could be -- and so do your longtime responses to them: the pouting, the shouting, the drinking. Old habits and attitudes remain as fixed as continents, keeping parent and child, sibling and sibling, at a constant distance from each other throughout their lives.

As the stuff of drama goes, this aspect of home is about as familiar as the bed you slept in as a kid. Many a playwright has led us into family dens where attitudes and relationships forged long ago are perpetuated to the point of petrification, with grim if not outright tragic consequences. Far fewer, though, have taken us into homes where cataclysm has shattered such families, freeing them from their fossilized existence. That's where playwright Daniel MacIvor leads us in his Marion Bridge, inside a Nova Scotia cottage where three sisters who have reunited during the last days of their mother's life unexpectedly find themselves freed up to change.

At first, all is the same as it ever was: Theresa, the nun who lives on a farm in New Brunswick, needles Agnes, the Toronto actress, about her taste for the bottle and her resistance to spending time with their mother; Agnes responds by snidely referring to her goody-goody sis as "Saint" Theresa; and both shake their heads over "strange" little sister Louise and her fanatical devotion to TV soaps. They push each other's buttons, and the more they do the younger they become, until they're bratty grade schoolers, bickering, calling each other names, and even playing "keep-away" with Louise's remote control.

You've heard it all before, in other plays if not your own home, but it's still sharply observed enough to strike a chord in most viewers, and as played by the gifted trio in Ken Webster's staging for Hyde Park Theatre, sharply presented enough to strike the funny bone, too. Emily Erington's Theresa suffers the transgressions of her siblings with a pained look that falls somewhere between a wounded heart and heartburn. Rebecca Robinson's Agnes brandishes the arched eyebrow and insufferable smile of the know-it-all, and her interrogations of Louise prompt Kelsey Kling's face to take on the anxious expression of a student being tested on a subject she hasn't studied.

Just about the time you've completely mapped out the geological framework for these sisters' relationships, MacIvor shakes things up for them and us. Their mother's death forces these women into different positions within their home. The tectonic plates on which they've grounded themselves for so long start to shift, and we get to see them moving closer together, discovering new ways of relating to each other and enjoying them. It's refreshing in a drama such as this to see that change is possible -- positive change, to boot -- and Kling, Robinson, and Erington embody their characters' changes with the beauty of flowers opening to a spring sun after a long winter, making the work more appealing still.

Ken Webster, never a slouch at casting, has pulled together a team of actors who fit so naturally in these characters' skins (right down to the "aboots" and "hooses" in their Northern speech) that they project a sense of belonging together and belonging to the lives they describe. When Erington's Theresa makes a distraught confession of her need to believe -- perhaps the most powerful and arguably the most difficult moment in the show -- her conviction in her faith is never in doubt. So it is with all three actors; they always seem, well, at home here.

To fans of MacIvor's House and The Soldier Dreams, Marion Bridge may seem as modest as the brown-on-beige kitchen that set designer Paul Davis has created for this production, something plain and old-fashioned and maybe a little hokey. But as the real St. Theresa teaches us, there is virtue in "the little way." Hyde Park's Marion Bridge offers a small sign of hope, a possibility for change, in a time of despair; sometimes that's enough to shake up the world.

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Marion Bridge, Hyde Park Theatre, Daniel MacIvor, Ken Webster, Rebecca Robinson, Emily Erington, Kelsey Kling, Paul Davis, House, The Soldier Dreams

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