There are lots of sentence fragments in The Soldier Dreams, by Daniel MacIvor. Lots of um. Really makes you. Not that I. Or. Whatever.
As one of the actors in the show, I have to figure out where those hidden thoughts come from and where they were going before my character abandoned the attempt to put them into words. The task is like that of an archaeologist who has a few bones and is trying to imagine the dinosaur.
It’s a writing style that I associate with David Mamet, who didn’t hesitate to use stilted, modern-day speech patterns in his plays. It has become much more common in recent years, and at its best, it’s a style that puts the internal emotional life of the characters front and centre. At its worst it’s a documentation of the deterioration of the English language.
MacIvor uses it brilliantly to strip things down to the emotions, and the result is a play that is both funny and moving, but also very insightful with respect to language and communication.
This production of The Soldier Dreams is directed by London native Jonah Allison, the Artistic Director of Column 13 Actors Company, who now splits his time between London and Toronto. Last year, his London production of Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross took the Brickenden Award for Best Production of 2006.
The play literally centres around David, a young man (played by Michael Paylor) who lies dying in bed in the middle of the stage, lost in a coma, but not entirely unaffected by the people around him. These include his older sister and brother-in-law (Martha Zimmerman and me), his younger sister (Kate Lawson), his lover (Raymond Bowen) and a nurse (Jeannette Klaver). His dreams are not about them however; they are re-creations of an encounter with a German medical student (John Iglesias) whom he met only once, on a wedding weekend in Ottawa.
Everyone in the sickroom knows that they are on death watch, but they fight and joke and worry and reminisce, generally avoiding the elephant in the room. Occasionally, however, they look it right in the eye, and for my character, that’s when the sentence fragments really kick in.
Throughout the play, MacIvor has each of the family members step out of the action and speak directly to the audience, and each one reinforces the language themes by pointing out that David loved to get away from words altogether and dance like a fool. “He said it was good for the soul. Um. Yes. Um. Soul. Hm. Words. Words. Problematic.”
The Soldier Dreams, by Daniel MacIvor runs at the Aeolian Hall from May 17-19 and 22-26 at 8 p.m. 519-672-7950