BULLY by Stephen Guy-McGrath and Steven Mayoff, directed by Ted Dykstra, with Alex Poch-Goldin and Guy-McGrath. Presented by Strange/Momentum at the Theatre Centre (1087 Queen West). Previews Tuesday (October 29), 8 pm, opens Wednesday (October 30) and runs to November 10, Wednesday-Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 2 and 7 pm. $15. 416-894-1348.
Stephen Guy-Mcgrath is flying these days.Bully, written by Guy-McGrath and Steven Mayoff, puts him in a circus-style harness and sends him soaring over the stage and occasionally the audience's heads.
"Flying is something we all want to do," enthuses the performer before he starts the day's rehearsal. "It's a way to get away from it all, like coasting downhill on your bike on a sunny fall day.
"I'm sure it even lowers my blood pressure. And it's sexy, too, though not in that Freudian kind of way."
Bully is the tale of Eugene-Michael Carter, a 10-year-old who fears a schoolyard thug and deals with his angst with the help of Stephen Hawking and the physicist's studies of how the universe works.
"I read 20 pages of Hawking's A Brief History Of Time and thought it would make a great piece of theatre," says Guy-McGrath.
He's illustrating his points with an exuberant athleticism, falling into different characters with a physical twist or emphasizing a point with a sharp movement. Now he suddenly spins out of his chair, turns it around and leans toward me across its back.
"But by page 30 it lost me. Hawking himself jokes that more people bought his book than read it.
"But a few years ago I remembered a boy who was terrorized by his peers in my public school, robbed of his dignity on a daily basis, and that memory gave me a context in which to stage Hawking's ideas."
Eugene is a socially awkward kid whose family life is in shambles -- absent father, troubled mother -- who turns to Hawking as another misfit who can offer support. Hawking, in fact, becomes a surrogate father in the boy's mind, offering him affection, sympathy and a possible way out of his towering problems.
Alongside Guy-McGrath's Eugene, Hawking and the bullying Robert, Eugene's mother and his priest teacher make up the rest of the cast of characters. They're all played by Alex Poch-Goldin -- though it's Eugene's imagination and memory that bring them to highly subjective life.
As we discuss the work, Guy-McGrath and I are sitting in the rehearsal hall on a floor cloth that depicts a spiralling universe and two atoms annihilating each other. Two platforms on scaffolding and some twinkly lights complete the picture -- or almost do, since the space's ceiling is too low to accommodate the flying apparatus.
"I used to joke that theatre might as well be radio drama unless it has a physical component," offers the Newfoundland performer, "but I think there's lots of truth in that idea."
Guy-McGrath's background includes dance training, clown studies and two years at the National Theatre School. He's also a pretty good musician, as he demonstrated with his singing, step-dancing and fiddle work in Swingstep a few years back.
He's put these skills to memorable use in movement-based shows like Velo/City and text-centred works like White Mice and The Complete Works Of Wm. Shakespeare (Abridged). He plays fiddle and tells stories in his one-man show, Spinning Yarns, which deals with growing up on the Rock.
And what about the flying? Are we going to see a big-bang version of Peter Pan?
"No," laughs Guy-McGrath, a sunbeam reflecting off his bright blue glasses. "I see the show as more low-tech than high. I don't need an expensive video collage to position Eugene in space. Lighting from below takes care of that, so I can be hanging two feet above the floor and still seem to be 200 feet off the ground.
"The flying effect is done by working a simple rope-and-stick device. I'm strapped into the unit, and either I or the unit can rotate in a floaty, 360-degree spherical movement.
"It's like a baby's jolly jumper, but without the bounce." email@example.com