Marion Bridge

By - Jan 5th, 2007 02:52 pm
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By Russ Bickerstaff

Three somewhat estranged sisters come together and end up substantially closer as their mother passes away in Daniel McIvor’s Marion Bridge. The play, set in the pastoral stillness of Nova Scotia, has met with some considerable success since it first appeared on stage several years ago. The Boulevard Ensemble Studio Theater presents an intimate look at the drama and comedy of the three sisters in its production running through the middle of the month.

The play opens with a monologue by Carol Hirschi in the role of Agnes. Agnes is a struggling actress living in Toronto and has been away from her mother and her sisters for quite some time. For the most part, Hirschi’s wild and brazen stage presence serves the role remarkably well. The edge of authenticity slides off her performance very occasionally, but it doesn’t detract from her overall effect on the production.

Hirschi’s wild, frenzied energy is counterbalanced by Cheryl Ann in the role of Theresa, Agnes’ sister who happens to be a nun. Theresa is the pseudo maternal glue that holds the sisters together. She’s been looking after her ailing mother with a degree of Christian self-righteousness. McIvor’s script slowly adds emotional depth to the character over the course of the story and such subtlety isn’t lost to Cheryl Ann, who graciously complies with the level of depth the character is being offered, but it isn’t enough. McIvor simply does NOT allow Theresa enough of an opportunity to expand outside the standard image of a prim and proper nun. As a result, the character works best when placed in situations that are interesting enough to make her appear to have greater depth.

Theresa is also looking after her sister Louise, who lives at home with her and their mother. Beth Monhollen plays the shy, inexpressive Louise, who spends much of her time watching TV. Gradually, the character opens up to cast and audience alike, providing some of the McIvor’s most vivid, descriptive dialogue. Each of the sisters has a monologue at some point in the play and Louise’s is by far the most moving. The really impressive end of Monhollen’s performance, however, doesn’t even involve dialogue. Hirschi and Monhollen share a scene playing a game of cards. There’s a lot here that isn’t expressed verbally between the characters. Something is communicated in actions and mannerisms over the course of the brief card game that is almost certainly being misunderstood by both parties. It’s a clever moment that recalls a similar scene in The Rep’s production of Born Yesterday.

The production is modest, consisting of a very cozy-looking domestic set complete with a few small details. Occasionally we hear the sound of Louise’s soap opera coming in from the next room. The audio for the soap opera that’s been pre-recorded for the production is a lot of fun. An uncredited Joe Fransee and a similarly uncredited female actress ooze over-the-top melodrama ever so briefly. Even though it doesn’t sound at all like the modern soap opera described in the script, it surprising how much the sound of a television in the next room completes an otherwise sparse, domestic set.

Though this is a play firmly grounded in a single home, the dialogue and situations in the play provide for some wider scope in setting. Nova Scotian folk music transitions piped in through the sound system provide quite a bit of cultural flavor. The real depth here is the emotional landscape, which can grow to be immense in certain moments of an enjoyable production Directed by Boulevard Theatre Artistic Director Mark Bucher. VS

Boulevard Theatre’s production of Marion Bridge runs now through January 14. Tickets can be purchased in advance by calling the ticket office at 414-744-5757. More info is available online at www.boulvardtheatre.com.

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