Daniel MacIvor’s New Magic Valley Fun Town is a deeply moving new play

Tarragon premiere about a reunion between friends could use some cuts, but the production has an undeniable emotional resonance

NEW MAGIC VALLEY FUN TOWN by Daniel MacIvor (Tarragon/Prairie Theatre Exchange). At Tarragon Mainspace (30 Bridgman). Runs to March 31. $22-$60. 416-531-1827, tarragontheatre.com. See listing. Rating: NNNN

Tarragon’s premiere of Daniel MacIvor’s latest play is deeply moving despite some structural shortcomings. 

The plot itself is simple: Dougie (MacIvor) anxiously fusses over preparations for a reunion with his childhood best friend, Allen (Andrew Moodie). His wife, Cheryl (Caroline Gillis), and their daughter, Sandy (Stephanie MacDonald), help him get ready.  

The details of the production grab us right from the start, as Dougie’s over-preparation begins with at least five minutes of agonizing physical comedy as he attempts to manage a mountain of groceries. 

The ingrained rhythms and idiosyncrasies of Dougie and Cheryl’s dialogue impart a palpable sense of their history. When MacDonald enters, the family dynamics round out as Sandy and Dougie align themselves in small but distinct ways against Cheryl. 

Richard Rose’s clear direction lays bare the humour and depth in MacIvor’s script, further amplified by a proficient cast. MacIvor’s ability to balance Dougie’s comedic posturing with moments of vulnerability is charming Gillis’s depiction of Cheryl’s loving exasperation feels authentic and endearing and Moodie’s portrayal of Allen’s careful and reserved manner provides a satisfying contrast to the others. 

MacDonald, however, stands out for her ability to embrace Sandy’s agonizing and graceless attempts to ingratiate herself with Allen, while capturing the gravity of emotional revelations with a grounded stillness. 

Brian Perchaluk’s set design balances the practical and symbolic, conjuring memories of 90s Sears catalogues while reinforcing Dougie’s compulsive need to keep everything, including his history, contained. 

While the details are engaging, the first half drags. Allen, the catalyst for the play’s action, doesn’t arrive until halfway through, and the revelations towards the end feel rushed. MacIvor’s writing adeptly communicates the character dynamics to us well before Allen enters, and the story would benefit from minor cuts to the first half to make room for the later emotional shifts to unfold more organically.

Despite all this, the production possesses an undeniable emotional resonance that persists long after curtain call.

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