Daniel MacIvor's In On It (da da kamera 2001) is a realization of the imaginative potential of "poor theatre." Two actors and a jacket on a bare stage evoke a world of love and loss; the "things that happen out of careful planning" and the "things that happen over which we have no control" - the arbitrary, unintentional, optional, life-changing things.
The play opens with a jacket, lying in a blue spotlight on the floor in the darkness of the theatre, and an aria by Maria Callas from an opera by Donizetti, in which the heroine - on her way to her death - recalls the happiness of her childhood. This is followed by the sound of a car accident. The significance of the music and words become startlingly clear only at the "end" of the play, but a mood of expectation is immediately established. In On It works through a series of twists and turns, as two actors - "This One" and "That One" create the lives of two friends who are in turn creating the characters in a play, who are in turn creating them. What they imagine in effect becomes real, as they re-enact the bizarre beginning of their relationship and the tragic conclusion. The stories they act out - changing roles to show how they would interpret events differently - are poignant and funny vignettes of discovery and loss, as relationships within marriages, between parents and children, and between friends and lovers fail and fragment.
The opening of the play, as conceived and enacted by "This One" (played by MacIvor in the premiere production) is questioned by his partner, "That One" (Darren O'Donnell), whose "character" is initiated through his recollection of a recurring dream of a concrete boat, and his speculation as to whether it would float. The play, then, begins with layers of imaginative possibilities, and continues to engage the audience throughout: the audience in effect participates in creating the play by interpolating the "scenes" and their relationship to the "characters" who create them.
In the first "scene" a man (MacIvor/This One) awaits the verdict of his doctor on the state of his health, expecting a death sentence. He expresses his rising panic in terms of a verbal assault on his doctor, through his interaction with his self-obsessed son at a restaurant, and his wife at home, who announces that she is leaving him. This melodrama is then interrogated for its significance and its effect, "That One" concluding that "This One" does not know how to credibly enact emotion, or to write parts for women.
The "imagined" and the "real" are further investigated in scenes depicting "the life-changing things" - the consequences of marital breakdown for a child, the depredations of Alzheimer's, showing "This is what it's like to be alive. This is what it's like to die." A play that runs for not much more than an hour covers considerable emotional and philosophical territory.
The "ending" is presented in terms of options: the first a hilarious song-and-dance routine set to the goofy song, "Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows," celebrating the early relationship of the two men; the second the fatal car accident foreshadowed by the opening. This One's final comment on life and art is a denial of meaningful conclusions: "Some things end. Some things just stop." In On It is a highly entertaining, engrossing, heart-breaking work - moving from intimate conversational style to histrionics, from ironic reflection and criticism to candid confession, from melodrama and parody to minimalist suggestive gesture. In On It makes you glad to be "in on" this play - alive and at the theatre.
Commentary by Anne Nothof, Athabasca University
Last updated 2012-05-04