You see, Victor knows he is in a theater, telling stories. And he tells us this. His self-awareness as a performer gives him the freedom to be completely honest.
House by Daniel MacIvor. Directed by Tara L. Matkosky. starring Tim Spears. Staged by Boston Center for American Performance (BCAP) at the Boston University Theatre, Lane-Comley Studio 210, Boston, MA, through November 20.
By Emily Rudofsky
Daniel MacIvor’s one-man show House first appeared in production in 1991, with collaborator Daniel Brooks. It’s the story of Victor, a man in crisis, a troubled but ultimately likable everyman who takes the audience on a ride through the roller coaster of his life. In fact, what makes this play and this production so worth seeing is the interactive relationship between the performer and the audience, which evolves and develops over the course of the evening.
Describing himself as a “stalwart of the Canadian theatre,” MacIvor is playwright-in-residence at Tarragon Theatre in Toronto. From 1987 to 2007, MacIvor was artistic director of da da kamera, an international touring company, committed to “the clear and simple exchange of energy between the performer and the audience.” His works are known for pushing boundaries regarding meta-theatrics; he has a tendency to acknowledge the reality of a play as a performance, and House is no exception.
You see, Victor knows he is in a theater, telling stories. And he tells us this. His self-awareness as a performer gives him the freedom to be completely honest. He explains his world piece by piece: his hopes, his dreams, and his disappointments. “I wanted to be an engineer, “ he says. “I wanted to be one, but I’m not.” And when it gets too real, he can snap (his fingers) and take the audience somewhere else.
The bottom line is Victor controls the environment: he provides the information. He closes the doors to signify the start of the show. He changes the atmosphere at will to suit the stories. And because it is, effectively, his “house,” he can invite strangers in and talk to them with comfortable curiosity.
The production is uncomplicated. The lights, designed by Heather Sparling, change only a handful of times, artfully changing the atmosphere in synergy with Victor. The design elements are simple—a very subtle sound design by Steve Dee and minimal scenic design by Eleanor Kahn. Ninety minutes, spent in a circle of chairs, listening to one man talk could be tiresome, but this show is not.
Tim Spears, a BU College of Fine Arts MFA candidate, plays Victor. He spends much of the 90-minute performance seated in a chair, the center of a circle reminiscent of a group therapy confab. Spears’s Victor can be both alienating and sympathetic; he sometimes disappears into the various characters he describes, eventually to reemerge even more alone than before.
A note from the playwright describes the “need for the actor’s unwavering presence on the stage.” He explains that the performer should stay away from “method acting” identification with the character; instead, he should work from a deep understanding of the text. Director Tara L. Matkosky, who received her MFA from BU, has an adroit touch, and both Matkosky and Spears explore a very personal concept of the piece. It’s hard to tell where to draw the line between performance and life, and this complete immersion into the world of Victor is not an end in itself but reveals complex insights into the text.
House may a decade old now, but it maintains its relevance. Really, Victor could be any of us. He’s a little quirky and pretty angry at having been given the short end of the stick. But he’s still just a guy trying to figure out how to go on living. He talks to the survivor in all of us.
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