Daniel MacIvor (photo by Guntar Kravis) and Denise Clarke (photo courtesy of Factory Theatre).
The solo show is a proud tradition of Canadian theatre. Maybe we crave the intimacy of a direct conversation between audience and performer, or maybe we’re just economical, but one thing is certain: whether it’s a big opening in the Distillery District, or a Fringe tent word-of-mouther at St. Vlad’s, solo performance is a popular and ever-present theatrical genre in this country and in this city. And right now, two of the best solo performers in the country have shows up and running in Toronto.
Last week, Daniel MacIvor’s This Is What Happens Next debuted at the Berkeley Street Theatre, while last night, Denise Clarke of Calgary’s One Yellow Rabbit opened A Fabulous Disaster at Factory as part of their Performance Spring festival. If you think you can swing it, see them both.
MacIvor’s play comes with a lot of context. Many will remember, a few years back, when his company, da da kamera, made a farewell tour through Buddies, featuring the final performances of the solo shows he created with Daniel Brooks: Here Lies Henry, Monster, and House. MacIvor then promised that he was taking a break and that we wouldn’t see any more shows like that from him, maybe ever.
Did this “break” ever really take place? It’s hard to say. What with Tarragon mounting productions of his work in their past three seasons, the Company Theatre’s doing Marion Bridge at the Young Centre, a special one-night-only fundraiser performance of another solo show—Cul-de-sac—at Buddies, and even a retrospective of his films at TIFF Cinematheque, it doesn’t really feel like he ever went away.
And now, he and Brooks are back with yet another solo show, the aptly titled This Is What Happens Next, which purports to be MacIvor’s most autobiographic work yet. It might be more accurate to describe it as a deconstruction of the Brooks/MacIvor solo show. At first, it’s disarmingly meta and self-reflexive: MacIvor comes onstage as himself, apparently, discussing how he was supposed to have given this kind of shows up (true!), and referencing the fact that he recently went through a divorce (also true!). It isn’t too long, however, before we realize that this is a sort of trick. This isn’t a memoir, or a stand-up monologue; that layer of artifice is pulled back, and we find ourselves deep in the middle of a classic Brooks/MacIvor solo-show plot: interconnected (and deeply dysfunctional) characters, a dash of the supernatural, and the ever-present spectre of inevitable death. As one would expect, MacIvor delivers fantastic dialogue and characterization, while Brooks has directed with his typical deft hand, creating a work that is funny, creepy, and totally compelling. If this is what happens next, that’s absolutely fine with us. More, please!
Denise Clarke is less of a known entity in this neck of the woods, but she’s been making theatre with Calgary’s respected One Yellow Rabbit for more than twenty-five years, and she’s performed work locally at Factory, the World Stage, and the Young Centre. In A Fabulous Disaster, she plays a woman wearing a paper suit in a forest fire, trying to save wild animals. The story is simple, but unravels so carefully and gracefully (you always know exactly as much as you need to in order to stay with her), that one doesn’t want to give away too many more plot details. Let it suffice to say that the character is brokenhearted and on a desperate mission to make someone jealous in a way that probably only makes sense to herself.
The script goes for some strange philosophical twists and turns, but it’s always grounded in the character, a fascinating, often hilarious creation. The biggest difference between Clarke’s show and MacIvor’s is Clarke’s own body. She’s an intensely physical performer, and she weaves a dance-like physical vocabulary into her show that is at once natural and a genuine feat of strength. Disaster? Not so much. Fabulous? Absolutely.
This Is What Happens Next runs until May 8.
A Fabulous Disaster runs until April 25.