PEGGY BAKER AND MICHAEL HEALEY. PHOTO BY JOHN LAUENER.
RADIO PLAY created by Denise Clarke (Peggy Baker Dance Projects). At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (55 Mill). To November 29 at 8 pm. $20-$30. 416-866-8666. Rating: NNN
Denise Clarke's Radio Play gets staticky near the end, but for most of its hour-long running time it's pitch-perfect.
An ingenious blend of dance, theatre, biography and fiction, it features modern dance great Peggy Baker as a retired modern dance great named Marnie. (Just FYI: Baker is nowhere near retired herself.) Out of work and with her savings depleted, Marnie - who says she once "had Twyla and Merce on speed dial" - is now reduced to seeking a job from finicky human resources honcho Angus (Michael Healey).
Clarke's script - and Baker's open, honest performance - earns shivers of recognition from anyone involved in the arts. Marnie humiliatingly is forced to demonstrate her art - including doing the splits - and recounts having to justify her existence and how much money she makes (or doesn't make) from her dance.
The title comes from the fact that Marnie hears her life as a radio play. This creates a whimsical counterpoint to the movement onstage, but the contrivance isn't fully explained. Is Clarke suggesting that Marnie is dissociated from her own life? That she and other artists live in some imaginary world? Not sure. More likely it's a convenient way of communicating text while the performers have to execute elaborate choreography onstage.
Lee Anholt's evocative lightning design helps demarcate various real and imaginary spaces, while Richard McDowell's sound design is full of surprises.
Baker is, no surprise, an astonishing mover, her long limbs expressive, her body able to shift mood in a nano-second. Her acting skills - both live and in the audio playlet - are strong, too. Healey, a late replacement for dancer Larry Hahn (who was injured and is the show's rehearsal director), plays against her beautifully, his physical nervousness capturing Angus's buttoned-down character. It's fascinating to see the power shifting between the two characters so fluidly.
Too bad the piece stumbles at the end. I won't give the conclusion away, but it goes against what comes before and trivializes Marnie's struggle.