LET’S RUN AWAY by Daniel MacIvor (Rework Productions/Canadian Stage). At Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley). Runs to November 17. $49-$79. 416-368-3110, canadianstage.com. See listing. Rating: NNNN
One of the finest works in playwright/performer Daniel MacIvor and dramaturg/director Daniel Brooks’s 30 years of rigorous collaboration, Let’s Run Away makes for a profoundly unnerving, intriguing and affecting 80 minutes of theatre.
As a child, Peter was abandoned by his mother. At times a ward of foster homes, at others of a travelling carnival, Peter was at one point in his youth reclaimed – some might say abducted – by his mother and then abandoned again. As an adult he has lived precariously, sometimes sleeping outside, sometimes holing up at a motel in exchange for work.
Now in his 50s, Peter is telling his story as refracted through the prism of his mother’s unpublished memoir, inserting rebuttals and expanding on anecdotes when needed. He also tells his story through objects, such as a famous musician’s bass guitar and a ridiculous cat painting.
Easily agitated, Peter needs these items as anchors because storytelling does not come easily to him. Storytelling is a way of wresting control of a narrative and then setting it free, and Peter has enjoyed precious little control in his life. Yet over the course of Let’s Run Away, he learns to tell the story of his abandonment with genuine abandon, spilling his guts and opening his heart.
MacIvor and Brooks reveal the conditions of Peter’s life incrementally, with MacIvor hustling between various stations: from one he reads aloud from the aforementioned memoir, from another he lip-synchs to a recorded recitation of Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, from another he struggles to flesh out parts of his story unacknowledged by the memoir. Part of this monodrama’s expositional intelligence arises from the way it orients us less through words than through physicality, objects, space and Kimberly Purtell’s angular, often eerily low-wattage lighting.
While this range of elements helps us gradually get a grasp of Peter’s fragmented story, it’s MacIvor’s addled energy that provides the play’s creeping emotional wallop.
I can’t recall whether there was a point in Let’s Run Away’s avalanches of verbiage when Peter speaks of diagnosis or medication – as opposed to recreational drugs – but MacIvor imbues his performance with the angsty propulsion and ever-thwarted perfectionism of an untreated mental illness.
At the start of Let’s Run Away, Peter seems to seek validation through verification: because he is mentioned in his mom’s memoir, because of a handful of meaningful items in his possession, he feels his existence has been acknowledged.
By the play’s end, however, his own memories – and, crucially, the sharing of those memories – assume greater gravitas. Peter has found a way to speak his own truth – and he makes us feel as though he couldn’t have done it without us.