YOU FANCY YOURSELF written and performed by Maja Ardal, directed by Mary Francis Moore. Presented by Contrary Company at Factory Studio. Aug 3 at 9 pm, Aug 5 at 3 pm, Aug 7 at 6 pm, Aug 10 at 4:30 pm, Aug 12 at 7:30 pm, Aug 13 at 1:30 pm. Rating: NNNNN
Creating a world of characters with lightning speed inspires actor Maja Ardal.
Nearly 20 years ago she played a quartet of roles in Dario Fo and Franca Rame's Female Parts, and I still see her blazing eyes as the child-murdering Medea.
In You Fancy Yourself, writer/performer Ardal tackles a dozen contrasting types. In this story of a quirky adolescence, young immigrant Elsa tries to fit into 50s Edinburgh society, where people tend to be suspicious and judgmental.
Though she began her career as an actor, Ardal proved her playwright skills in Midnight Sun, produced at the Tarragon. Here, she transforms people from her own history.
"I couldn't get some childhood characters out of my mind," recalls Ardal, whose own experiences parallel some of the fictional Elsa's. "Two years ago I began writing poetic portraits of them. But because I'm a theatre person, I tried them out in front of people and they took on dramatic life."
Elsa's world contains friends (Adelle) and enemies (ramrod-stiff teacher Miss Campbell), but she sees them through the filter of her Norse imagination, which relies first on fairy tales and later on Hollywood films.
"Elsa lives more in her imaginative world than the real one," offers Ardal, whose recent focus has been directing. "She moves from one unreality to another, and when the real world punches her in the face, she invents a new fantasy to survive it.
"Elsa's imagination enriches the lives of everyone around her, but it causes problems, too, since she hasn't found the balance between fantasy and reality."
Trained by the legendary George Luscombe, Ardal loves working in what she calls "the empty space," creating characters from nothing. In this piece, we meet more than a dozen figures, all of whom Ardal invents with her body and voice.
"It's all done internally, on the strength of belief, but I still need an instant physical sketch for the audience. The curious Elsa's chest pushes forward; the quiet Adelle's chest pulls back. Shy David MacDonald has tight lips and narrow eyes, while the prim matron Miss Campbell stands with her hands pointing directly to her vagina."
Ardal has followed her young characters into their adulthood, with the thought of a future full-length play. But for her SummerWorks show she's staying in their childhood.
"I want to be sure they're all technically crisp before I move on to their later lives." Maja Ardal plays multiple characters in her semi-autobiographical solo show You Fancy Yourself.