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Company Theatre's 'Marion Bridge'

For anyone seeking a great play enhanced by some terrific performances it doesn't get much better that Daniel MacIvor's Marion Bridge, currently receiving its Toronto premiere at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.

If the title seems familiar it's because MacIvor adapted it into a successful film in 2002. The Mulgrave Road Company in Nova Scotia originally commissioned the play in 1998, but this is its Toronto premiere. It was worth the wait because I cannot imagine a better production.

MacIvor's setting is the MacKeigan family home on Cape Breton near the town of Marion Bridge where the three sisters spent a memorable holiday in their youth. Actually only two of the sisters were there because the youngest sister, Louise – ever the outsider – was sick with Chicken Pox at the time.  The playwright uses the town to represent both an idyllic family vacation in what was apparently a somewhat stormy home life and as the dividing line between childhood and adulthood.

It is fitting that the somewhat child-like Louise should have missed the trip. In a vivid performance, Emmy Alcorn is more like a teen-aged boy giving monosyllabic answers and focused on watching TV and working on her truck.

In the film version, Alcorn played Dorey – character frequently mentioned but never seen in the play. It is to the credit of all three actresses that the other characters that are spoken of are so easy for us to visualized.

The oldest sister, Agnes, a nun on leave from the farming co-op where she lives, has come home to care for her dying mother. Middle sister, Teresa who had a child out of wedlock, gave her daughter up for adoption and moved to Toronto to pursue an acting career, joins her.

With all three are back in the family home to prepare for their mother's imminent passing and funeral, old tensions and arguments are revisited. The play presents a number of story threads, all of which are fully developed and resolved in an almost Chekovian style.  It's like nothing is happening and we are just observing the sisters daily interactions and yet everything happens and is fully explained. This is thanks largely to MacIvor's incisively economical writing and the sharply delineated performances by the three stars.

Caroline Gillis as Agnes plays the role of the eldest sister with warm loving patience, avoiding the usual traps of playing nuns as either fun-loving rebels or overly pious do-gooders. Her Agnes has doubts and human concerns and never tries to impose her beliefs on the others.

The fun-loving rebel here is Teresa, the stridently foul-mouthed alcoholic sister determined to give up her vices and re-connect with the daughter she gave up for adoption some 15 years earlier.  It's an edgy performance by Sarah Dodd that scores many of the laughs in the early scenes.

Without saying a word, Emmy Alcorn's Louise scores a laugh with her first entrance. The role written especially for her and it is hard to imagine anyone else as Louise given Alcorn's vivid and brilliant performance. A long speech in the second act establishes that though an outsider Louise believes she is just normal. All three sisters are normal and believable because you can see how each of them could have come from the same mother. In many ways the three compliment each other in much the same way the three stars work together to bring this funny and moving play to life.

The minimalist staging places an old-fashioned round dining table centre stage surrounded by three chairs. The characters seldom sit together. It's one of many subtle little touches in MacIvor's sensitive direction that helps elevate the play into a memorable evening of theatre.

The Company Theatre presents Marion Bridge at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts May 4 to 26. For more information go to or call the Young Centre box office at 416-866-8666.


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