Review by Natalie Pendergast
Daniel MacIvor’s Marion Bridge is first a character study, second a drama. It is not the events of this play that evolve, climax and entice, but rather the three sisters themselves. They are the events. They are the story.
Fifty-something Theresa, played by Melissa Mullen, is a devout nun, farmer, and the apparent rock of the family. When she is not tending to her dying mother’s needs or resolving conflicts, she is knitting, reading and doing chores. But her quiet control is disrupted upon the arrival of her sassy, unapologetic sister, played by Kathleen Hamilton.
Agnes‚ red lipstick, wild hair and thong heels give her the appearance of an animal out of her urban element. Colourfully contrasting the background of a grey afghan with a crucifix pattern, she has come home from Toronto minus her Cape Breton accent. She opens first scene by recalling a dream in which she is drowning in the ocean, pausing every few sentences to take a swig from her flask. With this move, director Laurel Smyth artfully hints to the audience that there might be something else in which she is drowning.
Flippantly denying she has a drinking problem, Agnes sees more cause for worry in their youngest sister’s lazy and reclusive lifestyle. But although the “strange” and simple Louise does not express emotion or even thoughts very well, she eventually reveals that, like her sisters, she too is complex. Craftily portrayed by Christina Forgeron, Louise surprises the audience with a poignant line: “We are all strange, some of us just hide it better than others.”
Although Marion Bridge is about three very different sisters united by the failing health of their mother, her eventual death is secondary to the growth and love of the characters‚ relationships. With each of their layered personalities, the play’s epiphany is when the sisters realize that despite their feuds, they are together not only because their mother needs them, but because they need each other. It is only with the help and support of the other two can they each begin to resolve their issues. And when they do, when they shed their egos, they are finally able to accept each other.
Smyth does a wonderful job of staging this play. The minimal props and desolate kitchen table force audience members to focus their attention on the characters‚ monologues and dialogue rather than the physical setting. With their charming accents and Caper expressions, they incarnate their rural Nova Scotian home, inviting viewers in warmly. Like the women’s personification of Cape Breton, the play’s final scene shows how Marion Bridge is more like a person than a place; with all of its character and emotion.
Beyond the Bridge theatre collective has brought a Cape Breton play to PEI, but just as successfully as it portrays rural Nova Scotia life, so does it possess a timeless, worldly quality. Sibling relationships, death, growth and acceptance are universal themes; themes that we can all relate to; themes that help this show to transcend genre. Where a regular drama captures a crowd for the length of its production, Marion Bridge captures a crowd’s hearts and thoughts for days afterward.