See Bob Run & Wild Abandon
nytheatre.com review by Stan Richardson
January 7, 2009
The very gifted playwright Daniel MacIvor is still slenderly known here, despite the wide acclaim he receives in his native Canada. (More than a few articles and reviews have been devoted to New York's under-exposure to this smart and innovative artist.) I first saw his work at P. S. 122 in 2001—the Obie-Award-winning In On It, an anarchic pas-de-deux in which two men tell the sometimes gruesome tale of a dying man (and his less-than-loveable loved ones), while they butt heads about events in their own romantic relationship and how to proceed with the story in general. MacIvor writes so-called "unreliable narrators" with the best of them; his penchant for the meta-theatrical distances us at first, only to suddenly yank us deeper into the heart of the story, which is always about the telling of stories—the growth and shedding of fictions.
Does this sound dry, academic, pretentious? My fault entirely. MacIvor is playful—mischievous—and effortlessly theatrical. Will you fall in love with his writing as I have? I hope you will. Will you fall in love with it as a result of seeing Swandive Studio's double bill of his earliest plays currently running at Center Stage? Maybe.
See Bob Run, written in 1989, and Wild Abandon, written in 1990, are both solo plays, providing a portal into the fantastical and disappointed interiors of two young people, Bob and Steve, respectively. Bob (short for Roberta) is hitch-hiking to get the hell away from her former life, a fable that didn't come through. Sometimes we hear her side (amiable, sullen, hyper, scared) of a conversation with whatever driver has picked her up in the middle of the night; other times, she speaks directly to us, and it is clear that sexual abuse, rape, and possibly murder are all ingredients in this let's-get-lost cocktail. In the latter play, Steve, more of a showman than Bob (if more solipsistic), vacillates between allegorical props such as a giant egg, a length of chain, and a noose, to explain to us what he finds so damn isolating about participating in his own normal life.
Swandive delivers a decent enough production of these two dramatic diatribes. Lisa Snyder's Bob—a self-protective teenager who bristles at the suggestion that she is special—is a smiling but wounded animal, a presence not unfamiliar to me. But right now, her performance seems to follow her character and is almost impermeable; the acting is genuine, but I wish there were a bit less of it. As Steve, Max Woertendyke has the goofier of the roles and his engagement with the audience is almost inevitable, given the writing. A mantra of his own uniqueness is what saves this gregariously tormented young man from suicide, but Woertendyke's commitment to his character can also at times interfere with the accessibility of his portrayal. I should note that I saw the first night of this run, so I don't doubt the performances will mature and soften some. (And in the spirit of change, I would like to express my sincere hope that See Bob Run director Benjamin Watson will encourage his actress to keep her hair back for the duration of the performance, as it can be otherwise difficult to see her eyes; I also hope that Wild Abandon director Ruis Woertendyke will find an alternative to having his actor rattle chains while speaking as I missed the dialogue in those parts entirely, which is not the fault of the loud and articulate actor.)
Both See Bob Run and Wild Abandon have a novel kitchen-sink-vaudeville feeling—narrative acts and naturalistic moments with blackouts in between. But after seeing MacIvor's later work (In On It was first performed at Edinburgh in 2000), these plays seem like interesting juvenilia—more performance art than playwriting. His very good play Never Swim Alone—which won the FringeNYC Excellence award here in 1998—was written merely a year after Wild Abandon, and has a narrative and theatrical sophistication that only appears here sporadically. I say this because Swandive Studio's double bill does amount to an enjoyable and thoughtful evening of theatre, but a much stronger case can be made for Daniel MacIvor's continued and continual presence on the New York theatre scene.