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A House Is Not A Home: Daniel MacIvor’s House

A story’s not a story unless you tell it. And once you tell it, it’s not yours anymore. You give it away. And once you give it away, it’s not something that hurts you anymore, it’s something that helps everyone who hears it. It’s the kind of thing that’s hard to explain. It’s probably best if we just show you how it works. (Daniel MacIvor, How It Works)

Years ago, I interviewed Jackie Latendresse for the twentieth anniversary of her Free Flow Dance Company. We spoke about the physicality of live dance, the corporeal nature of performance and the overtly bodily act of dance. This extends to theatre, of course, and unlike television or film, inhabits the same literal physical space as us. (I’m tempted to insert Derek de Kerckhove’s ideas of how television speaks very directly to us physically, even if we’re unaware of it consciously). I mention this not just because of the intimate space within which House was performed, or how Colin B. Anthes, as Victor, moved among and around us, but because the last time I enjoyed a live performance it was Latendresse’s troupe re interpreting Françoise Sullivan’s choreography as part of The Automatiste Revolution, as she was as seminal a member of that collective as Bourduas or Riopelle. Seeing the energy and verve of Sullivan re enacted decades later allowed for an updating, something that is not so much repetition, but reiteration.

Physicality. Variation. Interpretation. Intimacy. Collaboration. Humour. Rage (the former is just the latter in a nice suit, we’re told, like how you’re “born weird but life makes you fucked up”). And, of course, always ending with the House.

And yes, I am mimicking Victor’s recitations in the midst of the approximately sixty minutes long, one person show, where he counts on his hands, perhaps naming as chapters, or reciting as reminders, from “group” to “work” to “mother” to “father” to always end with the enthusiastic, arms raised, bellowing roar of “HOUSE!” Perhaps these are more invocations than recurrences, more damnations than delineating.

To return to reiterations / restatements: House holds a special place in the Canadian theatrical canon for many (including Anthes, who comments in the production notes that it was a major influence on where and who he is, now). If you’ve not seen MacIvor’s play in person, either when he performed it, you may have seen the film adaptation (as I did, years ago). I don’t mention that film adaptation as a “prime” version, but that it was something so vociferous that motivated me to experience a “live” version of House. When Stolen Theatre Collective announced this production, it offered an opportunity of a performance that would reimagine MacIvor’s work in a new, yet recognisable, manner.

To return to earlier comments, being close enough that Anthes’s energy and frenetic actions suffused the close, familiar space – the sweat running down his neck, or the spit as he vehemently, insistently asserted “Call me Joe AND I WON’T” about the aforementioned “group” leader – made this very real (MacIvor / Colin / Victor assures us later on that “We’re not in the theatre. We’re not in the building. We’re in this dream.”)

Robertson Hall was very minimal, which served the monologues very well, as they bled into each other or were accentuated / delineated by a focused use of lighting and sound. At one point using a hanging light to alternately illuminate his face, or the room, emphasising and directing our attentions, as the climax of the story built. The smaller, more familial (both in terms of familiarity, but also in terms of family dysfunction, which you might understandably extrapolate considering the dynamics, failed and flawed, between Victor’s mother, father, his wife or sister) interactions Anthes had with the audience only strengthened the anecdotes. In the movie adaptation, the audience are scattered like islands, removed from each other, and yet play roles in the reminiscences that Victor shares. This is echoed in how Anthes, when describing the participants of “group” evoked amusement in insinuating connections between the fictional characters and the live audience…and I say this as he seemed to point at me when describing his friend who is “weird” and steals things, but stupid things and just can’t help himself. Or perhaps it’s the idea that being born weird, and how life makes you fucked up, is an amenable experience to almost anyone….

There’s an element of Victor in House that is like Caliban (Danielle Wilson, the director, comments in the notes that Victor is completely honest with us, for the time we’re together, and it’s a harsh, but painfully truthful voice – for us as much as Victor): “You taught me language; and my profit on’t / Is, I know how to curse”. After all, the tag line for House is  “My mother is possesed by the devil. My father is the saddest man in the world. My sister is in love with a dog. The one I love does not love me and I got no place to live.”

There’s still opportunity to experience this adaptation – really, this environmental performance – of Daniel MacIvor’s House, presented by The Stolen Theatre Collective. Seats are very limited, as that’s necessary to enrich the experience. Go. You’re born weird, but life makes you fucked up, and as MacIvor says at the beginning of this tangent, and as Colin B. Anthes encapsulates in his riveting performance, with the supporting hands of Wilson and Stolen Theatre, one of the ways we get through it all is by telling, and sharing, our stories.

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