“Are You Okay?” “Actually, I’ve Been Better.”
Michael Healey and Peggy Baker do two completely different things. Photo by John Lauener.
At the beginning of Are You Okay, Michael Healey comes onstage and introduces all of the cast and crew, finishing with himself—whom he refers to as Mitz Delisle. He then explains that this isn’t a character he is playing, but that Mitz Delisle is a real person who, at a recent fundraiser, bought the honour of having a character in a Michael Healey play named after him. We’re told that it’s up to us to decide whether or not Mitz has been cheated.
He has. So have we all.
Are You Okay promises an interesting cocktail. Acclaimed dancer Peggy Baker collaborates with acclaimed playwright/performer Michael Healey in a piece directed by acclaimed director Daniel Brooks. This is not the best work you’re going to see from any of these people. In fact, rather than attempting to be something wonderful, magical, thrilling, fascinating, or particularly compelling, Are You Okay seems surprisingly satisfied with striving to be, well, okay.
Eight years ago, our press kit tells us, MIchael Healey and Peggy Baker met at another fundraiser, where they were required to go on stage, do their thing (his: theatre, hers: dance) and improvise something worth watching. Apparently, the results were surprising. He told stories and she danced, and all involved were impressed with the moments of accidental union and serendipitous harmony between the two performers. The two collaborated again in Denise Clarke’s Radio Play in 2008, and now, with Are You Okay, they are apparently trying to recapture the chemistry they first found eight years ago. And so, Baker performs her beautiful modern dance while Healey takes centre stage, recounting his thought process as he walks from his home at Queen and Ossington to his office at the Tarragon, and composer Debashis Sinha sits in a hole near the front of the stage, his laptop and head just peaking out, providing the music for the piece.
And that’s about all there is to it.
There are subjective moments of overlap between Baker’s and Healey’s performances, but why shouldn’t there be? This isn’t an improv routine at a fundraiser; this is a show with a director and a rehearsal period. Frankly, it’s frustrating there aren’t more of those moments—instead, there’s a disappointing arbitrariness to the piece. Why is Sinha sitting in a hole at the front of the stage? Why does Baker keep changing costumes? Are these important choices, or are they mere distractions? Similarly confusing is Healey’s text. Mostly we get a mundane explanation of his daily routine, peppered with some self-doubt and ruminations on the aging process, but then there’s the part about modern dance where he seems to be speaking in Baker’s voice, or the absolutely perplexing geography of his walk to work. How does he pass Dovercourt in getting from Ossington and Queen to Bathurst and Dupont? Or Robarts Library? And the walk home seems to hit intersections all over the city. So this is saying…what, exactly? It manages to pull you out of the story without being mysterious in an interesting way.
So, Are You Okay? Sure. Totally okay. There’s some nice design, some nice dance, and you’re sure to laugh at some of Healey’s jokes. But unless middle-aged navel-gazing is your thing, you’re likely to find the show’s sixty minutes move rather slowly.
Are You Okay runs at the Factory Studio Theatre until March 13.