Done like Dinner

Patrick Conner flexes new muscles in movement-based Dinner At Seven-Thirty

DINNER AT SEVEN-THIRTY conceived and directed by Allyson McMackon, with Patrick Conner, Melinda Little, Siobhan Power, Lucy Rupert, Erik Kever Ryle and Peter Windrem. Presented by Theatre Rusticle at Dancemaker’s Studio (927 Dupont). Opens Wednesday (December 12) and runs to December 16, Wednesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $12-$14, Sunday pwyc. 416-538-6964.

Rating: NNNNN

see patrick limber up. see patrick roll on the floor. See Patrick foxtrot. Patrick Conner is adding a new physicality to his stage work.He’s a skilled actor (Howl, Megatropolis) and he’s also moved into directing (Poochwater, Flight 198).

Now he’s working with movement coach Edie Shaw to stretch his body and his performing skills in Theatre Rusticle’s Dinner At Seven-Thirty. Poetic in its text and movement, the show is the final installment of creator Allyson McMackon’s take on Virginia Woolf’s dense novel The Waves.

An earlier version, Now The Day Is Over, drew high praise at the Toronto and New York Fringes. McMackon’s deepened the piece — about six friends who meet at a dinner party before they part — looking for new curves in the work’s physical and written lyricism.

“We’ve been working full out for the past two days,” he laughs, while sitting in a coffee house. “No dipping our toes in the shallow end of the pool. I’ve spent my evenings concentrating on Epsom-salt baths and stretching.

“But for all the aching I’m doing, I still can’t sit still. Every reading of the text — which deals with the sad side of truth rather than its happy aspect — gives me more to play with.”

Conner becomes a magnet who draws audience eyes to him, whether he’s Howl’s hallucinogenic novelist William Burroughs or a cross-dressing nurse in Romeo And Juliet. But he’s been approaching Dinner from a different angle.

“Some of the text, I have to admit, still stymies me, and I know that if I muscle brain-wise through the text, I’ll make weak choices.

“With the physical work, a paragraph can become more real for me. It’s as if, with the body having done the work, the text becomes more lucid.”

Conner plays The Man With The Umbrella, who had a strong childhood association with the other five characters. They were all united in some fashion with a seventh figure, a hero of sorts, who died in a riding accident. As the piece moves back and forth in time, from the present’s dinner party to an idyllic garden in the past, viewers discover the nature of their relationships.

“At first I thought The Man was dry, an emotional being who’d simply contracted,” notes Conner, who soon begins teaching at George Brown as a dialect coach. “Yet the physical work I’ve done has revealed that his aloofness is both his mask and his cage.”

In McMackon’s framework, the characters connect through their bodies as well as their words. There’s strong competition during the civil dinner party, not least in the foxtrot interludes.

“There’s freedom in this sort of creation. It reminds me of the mask work I’ve done, that exposure of vulnerability that we often use text to conceal. Here I can simply be there, let emotion affect me and not use words as a shield.

“If we do our job right, the text won’t be rarefied, but rather sound like talking to a friend across the table. What our bodies experience and what our words say will work in unison.”

jonkap@nowtoronto.comtheatre preview

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