Marion Bridge (Talonbooks 1999) by Daniel MacIvor is set in the kitchen of a family home in Cape Breton. The family history is tracked in terms of the response of three daughters to their dying mother, who has made a deliberate choice to die on her own terms, leaving her daughters to assess the terms on which they are currently living. The eldest sister, Agnes MacKeigan, is an alcoholic, under-employed actress, who has reluctantly returned home. The middle sister, Theresa, is a nun, who has assumed the responsibility of caring for her mother and her younger sister, Louise, who is perceived as "strange" - a social misfit.
Marion Bridge begins with a monologue in which Agnes recounts a dream: she is drowning, and any hope of rescue by a young family sitting on the beach is denied. They misinterpret her frantic waving for help, and respond by waving back. Agnes's despair is related to her childlessness: she has given up a daughter for adoption. Her journey towards self-knowledge and an equilibrium informed by hope for the future are effected through her reconciliation with her mother and with her daughter. As she explains to Theresa:
Look, this is a chance for me-This is an opportunity for me to set some things right. Mistakes were made in the past - and I'm not blaming anyone anymore, there's no point in that. I'm just saying that this is a chance to make something good happen (102).
Her plan to stay in the family home with her daughter and her sister Louise, is at first discouraged by Theresa, who is suspicious of her motives. Theresa also has her own private despair. Even though she belongs to a community of believers, and attempts to live out a Christian humanist philosophy, she experiences doubt and disbelief. She is sustained primarily through her contact with the land in the form of farming; her relationship to the earth is both visceral and spiritual. As she explains in the monologue which begins Act Two:
Farming is wonderful: getting your hands down there in the beautiful dirt. When you're working in it up to your elbows it starts to feel like liquid, think dark liquid, like the blood of the earth (77-78).
As she tells Agnes, however, she no longer sees God in a world in which children are killing children, and "half the world [is] on drugs and the other half starving and people just letting it happen" (106). What she values is her connection to her mother --represented in the post-its passed from mother to daughter on which are scribbled indicators of her needs: "Mother's notes. They're so beautiful. At first just a bunch of marks and squiggles but once you understand it it's as big and wonderful as any language" (78). She respects her mother's wish to die alone, while the three sisters are visiting their estranged father and his new wife.
Although the play validates communication and connection, it also demonstrates the "beauty" of aloneness - the private individual worlds in which each woman lives. Louise's private world - her "reality" - is that of the soap operas on television. She finally enters a larger world when she reaches out to a woman friend, and buys a truck from her. In her monologue near the end of the play, she shares her new experience of independence and freedom with the audience:
Daytime driving is one thing, nighttime driving that's something else. Nighttime driving, that's heading into yourself but daytime driving is heading out into the world, and here we're talking about heading out out out into the whole world. So it's daytime, summertime, say about six o'clock, and say you're heading east so that the sun's right behind you - and everything all around you is that kind of orange kind of yellow kind of golden kind of colour. . . . Then there's one thing you shouldn't be doing and one thing you should be. The thing you shouldn't be doing is to have a picture in your head of where you're going, people do that - the whole time they're driving they're just imagining the place they're going so that they're not really driving they're really just trying to get somewhere. So you shouldn't have a place in your head. Maybe you shouldn't even know where you're going. You'll only know where it is when you get there. That would be best (107-8).
All three sisters finally make the long-delayed trip to Marion Bridge - which has been for their mother a family goal, and but which when realized in the past, has disappointed her daughters. This time, however, it is the joint excursion that is the point, rather than the arrival. Once on the bridge - a connecting point between past, present, and future, they celebrate their mother's life and death by scattering the post-its "high into the air" like confetti (127).
Marion Bridge was nominated for a Governor Generalís Award. It was filmed in 2002, with screen play by MacIvor, and direction by Camelia Frieberg.
Commentary by Anne Nothof
Last updated 2020-09-04