Progress Festival 2019 review: The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale

THE EX-BOYFRIEND YARD SALE created and performed by Haley McGee (the red light district/Progress Festival/Outside the March). Runs to February.

THE EX-BOYFRIEND YARD SALE created and performed by Haley McGee (the red light district/Progress Festival/Outside the March). Runs to February 10. $25. See listing. Rating: NNNNN

What is the cost of love and relationships? in The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale, Haley McGee exuberantly attempts to answer that question with humour, heartbreak and complex mathematical formulae.

The premise is that Canadian McGee, newly based in London, England, is $10,000 in debt and, as creditors chase her down, is looking for things to sell for quick cash. Why not get rid of items left behind by eight of her exes?

These include everything from a guitar and a vintage typewriter to a mixtape CD and a 3-speed Raleigh bicycle. (All of the items are available for us to see and appraise.) What, though, is the value of these things? And if she tells us stories about the relationships, revealing things like who broke up with whom, how long they were together and who suffered more, would that change each item’s value?

It’s a novel idea, carried through with obsessive detail. McGee hired a mathematics specialist, Melanie Phillips, to help develop formulae. And in director Mitchell Cushman‘s playful production, McGee energetically writes down equations, posts sticky notes and unravels messages and information hidden in the set’s walls (Anna Reid is credited as scenic designer), ceiling or props. Also included are illuminating audio excerpts from interviews McGee conducted with some of the actual exes. My favourite moments come when a bit of information is wheeled to McGee via a creaky pulley system.

At the heart of all this activity, however, are big themes about life and love that anyone can relate to. Does it matter who says “I love you” first? Can long distance relationships work? And what about those people who take up a special part of your heart and soul, like the title character in Tom Waits’s song Martha? (McGee calls this “the Martha factor.”)

McGee’s writing is filled with details that all feel true when she’s recounting a pushed-up-against-the-fridge erotic encounter with one of her boyfriends, for instance, she mentions hearing the magnetic poetry fall to the floor. And her repeated use of the term “fair warning,” the statement an auctioneer delivers right before announcing the final bid price, is artful.

From her first solo show, Oh My Irma, through 2017’s I’m Doing This For You, McGee has always had a nimble, spritely presence, combined with a joyful, unstoppable verbal dexterity. Her work has become deeper and clearer, with a willingness to explore her life with complete honesty.

So fair warning. This is one of the best shows of the year. The Progress Festival run is already sold out, but each performance will have a waiting list. Do whatever you can to get on it. McGee and this show are priceless.


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