There is an affecting moment of dramatic truth in Ottawa Little Theatre’s production of Marion Bridge, Daniel MacIvor’s overwrought drama about about three sisters whose relationship is in crisis.
It comes when Agnes, the booze-swilling failed actress back from Toronto to be at her mother’s deathbed, sits down for a game of cards and a chat with the sister who stayed at home — the child-like, unimaginative Louise.
It’s a simple scene but subtle in nuance in what it tells us about two estranged siblings and the dynamics that both separate them and keep them together. It does work. And it’s a reminder of MacIvor’s expertise in creating compelling individual scenes for a play. But whether they present us with an integrated whole is another matter.
Marion Bridge is ultimately another of these pieces where the dramatist has family members reunite so that he can write juicy scenes that allow them to express their angst — and in this case give vent to their frustrations and resentments. But in this OLT production, only Jennifer Scrivens, outwardly stolid and mindless as the television-addicted Louise, gives any real sense of an inner life. She’s the one we end up watching with interest: we may have assumed at the beginning that she’s the most dispensable of the siblings, but she fools us — she’s actually the most grounded.
In contrast, Amanda Jonz’s Agnes, although noteworthy in her use of expressive body language, rarely gets beyond surface brittleness in her overall characterization. And she does struggle with one of the three quite unnecessary monologues that McIvor has foisted on his actresses. The third sister, Theresa, is an exile from the convent, with her own personal issues to resolve: if nothing else, Cathy Nobleman’s performance, alternately perky and shrill, does suggest emotional muddle.
Robin Riddihough’s spare but effective setting communicates the play’s rural Maritime locale, but the contributions of light designer Graham Price and Fen Prior-Delahanty are irritatingly pretentious. Director Chantale Plante has the unenviable job of trying to bring some fluidity to an aggressively episodic script, to manage its uneasy juxtaposition of comedy and seriousness, to engage the audience’s interest in off-stage events and characters we never see and only hear about — and, toughest of all, to make the script’s almost incessant pile-up of painful family revelations seem anything less than ludicrous. It’s a failed mission. Soap opera is still soap opera, no matter how highfaluting it presumes to be.
Marion Bridge by Daniel McIvor
An Ottawa Little Theatre Production
To April 2.
Director: Chantale Plante
Set: Robin Riddihough
Lighting: Graham Price
Sound: Bradford MacKinlay
Costumes: Jeanne Gauthier