JUMP by Daniel MacIvor, directed by Mark Lonergan, with Anne Anglin, Aviva Chernick, Sarah McDonald, Scott McCord, Severn Thompson, Clinton Walker and Brendan Wall. Presented by Rat-A-Tat-Tat and Theatre Passe Muraille in the Passe Muraille Mainspace (16 Ryerson). Previews begin Tuesday (January 9), opens January 11 and runs to January 28, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 2:30 and 7 pm. $19-$28, previews and Sunday pwyc. 504-7529. Rating: NNNNN
mark lonergan paces tentatively around the Theatre Passe Muraille stage. His hand covers his mouth as he wrinkles his forehead. He falls to his knees centre stage, raising his head and throwing his arms out beseechingly.
I've just asked the lanky, spiky-haired, baggy-pants Lonergan for a single statement that captures the essence of his latest project, a revival of local theatre superstar Daniel MacIvor's Jump.
But since MacIvor's hour-long play only has a single spoken word, I want Lonergan to show, not tell me, his answer.
And he's got it down. Jump is a piece about commitment, wanting it and fearing it, so he offers a nervous curve of the fingers, a slight shake in the outstretched arms and a hopeful expression tinged with fear.
As an actor, Lonergan made his mark in productions like Baby Jump Project's Digital Vaudeville and Parallel Exit's White/Noise/Jump.
These days he's more frequently writer/director, but he hasn't lost his commitment to the perfectly synched moves of physical theatre. Would a movement-hungry crossover audience like those entranced with the bamboo-grove acrobatics in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon be drawn to Jump? Maybe, but that's not Lonergan s intention.
"Theatre has no business mimicking film or TV," he tells me later in the green room. "A play like Jump can only work in a live medium."
Originally staged in Passe Muraille's narrow Backspace and now moving to the Mainspace, Jump was one of the theatrical wonders of the early 90s. It marked the first time the talented MacIvor both wrote and directed his own show. Surprisingly for a script with fewer than 10 pages, mostly stage directions, it was a strong contender for the Chalmers Canadian Play Award.
Lonergan is reinterpreting the piece about a public commitment ceremony that involves a jump from a tall red ladder. He isn't happy calling it a wedding and would rather speak of it as a collection of rituals whose meanings have been lost.
In Jump's world, the government has taken over marriage, establishing jump rooms as common and banal as neighbourhood donut shops for couples going through a generic, emotionless ceremony.
The production combines Victorian family values and the Sex Pistols fashion sense.
And if you think weddings aren't a big flashpoint these days, remember what the Metropolitan Community Church is going through to get gay and lesbian couples wed.
I'm sitting in a church basement watching Jump's third day of rehearsal. It's pretty surreal. The floor has been marked out as a shuffleboard court, and I'm on the game's "seven" line, the actors across the court on the other shuffleboard triangle. Off to the side is a wagon filled with a shitload of shiny toasters, a nod to a recognizable marriage ritual.
They work on the reception scene, with quick entrances and exits that scream French farce. Lonergan is only blocking it physically, relying on the performers to find their own motivations, characterizations and interactions. Like a sign of his self-restraint, his spiky hair is captured today in a black toque.
The bride's mother moves daintily in gold lamé shoes and carries a matching purse; the bride's two best friends wear uniform-like plaid skirts and red patent-leather shoes that hint at little-girl playfulness. There's an easy camaraderie and lots of laughter. They work the same 20-second segments over and over, accelerating until they hit a moderate Loony Tunes chase pace.
It takes 45 minutes of rehearsal time to establish and polish one minute of stage action.
Lonergan was turned on to the possibilities of physical theatre when he visited New York in 1996, saw the Blue Man Group, a trio now familiar for their Intel Pentium ads, and was intrigued by the company's playfulness and intelligent appeal to a wide audience. Since 1997, he's spent much of his time in the Big Apple, working with such off-off Broadway groups as Tiny Mythic Theatre and Todo con Nada.
"With its combination of local alternative companies and artists from abroad, New York blew my mind. But America requires the artist to be an entrepreneur. I go back and forth about the need for government funding," he says, scrunching his face in pain at the thought of how far Canadian funding has shrunk, "but the shows I'd like to work on have a long gestation period, and that means thinking about something that, to alternative theatre, is a dirty phrase: box office."
Lonergan has always been an enterprising salesman of his own work. That attitude doesn't sit well with some members of the Toronto alternative community, who find his self-promotion, in his word, distasteful.
"I've felt uneasy with some people, because the promoting is seen as American behaviour. Ironically, when I was in New York I felt like I was a shy guy hiding in a studio and just focusing on my art. I'm still trying to find the right balance between promoting and creating. It's tricky, but I have to embrace both as an artist and self-producer in 2001, providing an excellent show and also putting bums in seats. New York made me think that way."
Isn't there an easier theatrical path than this?
"My mother asked me that when I was home last week for dinner." Lonergan gives an easy and ingratiating laugh. ""Why are you so hard on yourself? Couldn't you write for TV or direct a mainstream play?'
"My answer is that while I want my work to appeal to a wide audience, it's equally vital for me to challenge the status quo of theatre, to push it into the 21st century so that what we see isn't a museum piece. If I don't face artistic challenges, the biggest compliment I'd expect is being called the tallest midget on the block." email@example.com