Communion: intensity and fear


There are few Canadian playwrights as talented as Daniel MacIvor when it comes to crafting stories hinged on characters’ inner workings and emotional states - and he reaffirms that fact with his latest offering as a writer and director; Communion, now playing at the Tarragon Theatre.

Communion, the second piece in a loosely connected trilogy, is structured as a trio of unelaborate conversations between three women; Leda (Caroline Gillis), a former alcoholic battling cancer, Carolyn (Sarah Dodd), Leda’s patient and zen-like therapist, and Ann (Athena Lamarre), Leda’s teenage punk turned born-again Christian daughter. Each conversation is separated by a span of months, giving the sense of a broad narrative arc via selected snapshots in time.

Despite the obvious allusion to Catholicism in the title, MacIvor’s script doesn’t centre on the church, or faith, or other sweeping themes, but rather on his characters. There is never the sense that they, or their individual stories, are being presented as part of a greater social or thematic message and as such one leaves the theatre feeling as though one has just experienced more of a human encounter than an artistic one.

Having said that, MacIvor’s work is hardly short on artistry. If there is a subtle yet pervasive theme, it is that of fear; fear of not doing the right thing, fear of not doing the right thing and not knowing how to fix it, fear of self-determination, fear of being alone, fear of the unknown. Although Leda, Carolyn and Ann are all strong independent women in their own right, their conflicts reveal that each of them possesses a soft underbelly. When they do butt heads it is not in the pursuit of desires or dominance over each other, but as a way of navigating their own uncertainties and vulnerabilities.

Script-wise, MacIvor has crafted a truly elegant piece, artfully offering a fantastic flow of dialogue without sacrificing naturalism. In terms of direction, he wisely avoids too many flourishes, but does have some fun playing with pregnant pauses, sighs, and gestures.

The cast holds their own with colourful but restrained performances. Caroline Gillis is a hoot to watch in her first rambunctious scene, but is oddly mature in the second, almost to the point of not seeming to be the same character. Sarah Dodd is impressively stone-like opposite Gillis, making what few cracks in her facade she does reveal that much more attention grabbing.

Communion is both a sedate and intense piece of theatre. Those expecting a good drama primarily centred around religion a la Doubt: A Parable, may be surprised - but not disappointed - by MacIvor’s offering.

Communion continues at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto until April 4. For more information commune here.

By Justin Haigh