Review: "New Magic Valley Fun Town" at the Tarragon Theatre

Caroline Gillis, Andrew Moodie, Daniel MacIvor and Stephanie MacDonald in New Magic Valley Fun Town - Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.jpg
  • Joe Szekeres, Chief Toronto Critic

A rather odd and quirky title, but man, oh, man the Toronto premiere of Daniel MacIvor’s ‘New Magic Valley Fun Town’ masterfully said so much for me in those moments where not a great deal was said. This will make sense when you see the production as I’m trying not to spoil where the story leads.

And when an exceptionally remarkable cast played and toyed with my emotions and thoughts right up to the play’s enlightening conclusion, I was completely taken and moved by the journey I had just experienced. Another bonus was the talkback after the performance so, future audiences, stick around for the dialogue and post show conversation.

Cape Bretoner Dougie (a memorable and heart felt performance by the playwright, Daniel MacIvor) hasn’t seen his childhood friend, Allen (a curiously pulled back, but gripping work from Andrew Moodie) in over 25 years. This reunion night of drinking, memories, dancing and talking between these two old friends, Dougie’s faith-filled Catholic practicing wife, Cheryl (delightful work from Caroline Gillis) and their screwed-up daughter and ‘sometimes’ grad student, Sandy (a terrific performance by Stephanie MacDonald) and the next day lead to revelations and understanding that will forever change all four of their lives.

Brian Perchaluk’s set is the interior of Dougie’s trailer with a décor that appears to be stuck at least twenty years earlier.  The playing space is raised and slightly constructed on an angle. Stage Left is the living with a brown checkered couch covered with a throw blanket of quilted earth colours. There is a boom box (ghetto blaster twenty years ago) on a side table to the right of the couch.  To the left are two lamp shades right out of the early 70s. Stage right is a sectional kitchen counter complete with stove, refrigerator and cupboards. Far stage right would be Dougie’s bedroom. 

Don Benedictson’s sound design and selection of songs blaring from the boom box as we enter the Mainspace auditorium brought me lovingly back some twenty years earlier.  A good number of the audience members around me (and, yes, me too) were singing the songs quietly to ourselves. Let’s face it – a good number of us will hum along to anything sung by Gordon Lightfoot or The Bee Gees. Brenda Gorlick’s choreography also brought a smile to my face from my undergrad years at bars and dances.  Thank you so much for the trip down memory lane.

Director Richard Rose has created for me a believable, poignant and realistic slice of life experience and vision that any of us could expect to face or may have already faced at one time. Mr. MacIvor is highly engaging as the crusty, curmudgeonly Dougie, a cancer patient, who lives in this trailer.  MacIvor’s sense of comic timing is finely handled when he enters at the top of the show carrying several grocery bags, a trip to wine store and the proverbial Tim Horton’s coffee cup.

I couldn’t quite figure out why Dougie would live with his wife, Cheryl, in a trailer park. Without spoiling too much of the plot, let’s just say once I discovered the relationship between Dougie and Cheryl, it explained a great deal about why Dougie is here. The opening banter between Ms. Gillis and Mr. MacIvor is superbly, naturally and realistically handled. They have found the pauses, the silences and the looks to grasp my attention immediately. As the story progresses, Ms. Gillis and Mr. MacIvor use these pauses, silences and looks to create tension and poignancy all at the same time.

Stephanie MacDonald is brass, sassy and sexy as daughter Sandy who appears to be battling some personal demons. She appears to be every bit Dougie’s daughter in her bold, rapid-fire banter with her parents over finishing her thesis while wanting to relax from the stress in her life. Later when she returns to meet Allen, she uses her feminine wiles and charm periodically in wanting to seduce Allen as ‘he gets her, and she gets him’.

Initially, for me, Andrew Moodie’s brooding intensity in capturing perhaps a sordid or possible threatening past as Allen caught my attention immediately. Allen is an instructor at the University of Toronto, and this information captures Stephanie’s attention as she wants to finish her thesis in English literature. To watch Mr. Moodie and to see his guard as Allen being let down was solid work. The discussion between Messrs. Moodie and MacIvor was hauntingly stellar and remains with me even after seeing the play two days ago.

Final Comments: In the talkback after the performance, a comment was made that ‘New Magic Valley Fun Town’ is a play about poetry. Absolutely agreed. Yes, the poetry is found in the skillful handling of dialogue delivery, in movement and in the silences and pauses. What makes the play one that remains with me is another comment that was made during the talkback – Once you tell the audience what the play is, that’s all it will ever be.

Hopefully, you will understand that last statement after you’ve seen the production as I don’t want to give any spoilers.

‘New Magic Valley Fun Town’ continues to March 31 at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre in the Mainspace, 30 Bridgman Avenue. For tickets call the Box Office (416) 533-6372. For further information, visit www.tarragontheatre.com.

Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission.

Performers: Caroline Gillis, Stephanie MacDonald, Daniel MacIvor, Andrew Moodie.

Directed by Richard Rose; Costumes designed by Brenda McLean; Lighting designed by Kim Purtell;

Photo of Caroline Gillis, Andrew Moodie, Daniel MacIvor and Stephanie MacDonald by Cylla von Tiedemann.