Untitled by Ryan McVittie, directed by Kimberly Purtell, with Jeanie Calleja, Joey Klein and McVittie. Presented by Straw Dogs at the Factory Studio. August 6 and 10 at 6:30 pm, August 8 and 15 at 9:30 pm, August 13 at 8 pm, August 14 at 2 pm. Rating: NNNNN
The name Ryan McVittie on a program usually guarantees an entertaining, if unsettling, night at the theatre. As an actor (Rabid, Pond Life), he's got a dark, brooding presence - he's capable of erupting at any moment. His scripts (The Contract, Shooting Penguins), too, are sardonic, full of machine-gunfire rhythms. But his new play, aptly titled Untitled, marks a departure.
"I think it's an evolution. For people who've seen my other stuff, this won't seem familiar," says McVittie. In it, he plays Frank, a writer who's trying to pen a love story but is suffering from writer's block. He feels disconnected from his emotions and can't access any memories about love. He's also dealing with his younger brother John (Joey Klein), who reminds him of their dead father, and he's involved with Holly (Jeanie Calleja).
"I'm working with fewer actors and a simpler story line," he says. "And I'm trying to distill everything down to its essentials. People compared the dialogue in my earlier plays to George F. Walker. My more recent mentors have been writers like John Mighton, Daniel Brooks and Daniel MacIvor."
Part of the change reflects the current global climate.
"I wanted to examine real human relationships," he says. "I didn't want to be glib about anything in a world where people are getting their heads cut off on TV."
McVittie's aware that trying to portray a writer writing can be untheatrical and self-indulgent.
"A lot of self-indulgence has been thrown into the scrapper," laughs McVittie. "It's liberating not to be so precious with writing."
The play is partly structured to depict Frank writing the play as it's happening, which brings up some fundamental questions about life and art.
"Can you write your own life?" asks McVittie. "Do you control your life as well as you control your writing? What happens when both are in a state of chaos?"
McVittie, a veteran of about a dozen Fringe/SummerWorks shows, is coming off his bravura turn as an obnoxious dinner party guest in Gordon Rand's Pond Life.
"It was fun to swagger like that, to say all the lines that people wouldn't dare say," he laughs. "I think Gord took me into consideration when he was writing that role. It was pretty easy to go there. This new role is the other polarity of my personality, it's full of insecurity and that lack of confidence that hits you when you're vulnerable."