When two young women meet in the camping section of a Canadian Tire, it could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Or it might be the start of a wonderful romance.
The lines are blurred in Daniel MacIvor’s 2006 play A Beautiful View – a sweet two-hander that director Ross Manson’s Volcano company has swiftly revived in a co-production with Munich’s BeMe Theatre (run by expat Canadian Elisa Moolecherry).
Amy Rutherford and Becky Johnson play the two women in question, though it’s difficult to describe them in concrete terms, because they aren’t given names and their occupations are always shifting. Rutherford’s character introduces herself as a bartender, while Johnson’s says she plays in a Pat Benatar cover band comprised entirely of ukelele players. Neither of these bare-boned facts turn out to be true: The former is, in fact, a waitress at an airport bar, while the latter doesn’t have a band yet, or, indeed, any discernible musical talent.
The two women’s styles of lying – off-handed embellishment versus wishful thinking – are key to their contrasting personalities, with Rutherford’s character a cool pragmatist, and Johnson’s always overly concerned with how others perceive her. Somehow this cucumber and prickly pear click, however – and after a night of drinking and philosophizing, the two go to bed.
Lord Alfred Douglas, Oscar Wilde’s beloved “Bosie,” wrote of “the love that dare not speak its name,” but MacIvor, a gay writer from an entirely different era, is concerned here with what is lost with love when you name it. Neither of these two women identify as lesbians. Indeed, Johnson’s character dashes for the door after her first sexual encounter with her friend, because, as she says, “You have to be very organized to be bisexual” – and she is anything but.
A Beautiful View is told directly to the audience in the past tense. The two women are reliving the highs and lows of this relationship that spanned their 20s and 30s and a bushel of boyfriends, though why isn’t clear until the end (and, to be honest, not even entirely clear then).
The script is nevertheless one of my favourites by MacIvor. He perfectly captures a certain conversational irony that seems a lot like earnestness that’s prevalent, or was once prevalent, among a certain type of urban artist-slacker. And he also pens lyrical passages where these women, unable or unwilling to describe who they are, do somehow find words to describe the numinous mysteries of life.
Rutherford is a soulful actress with big absorbing eyes, who has an incredible ability to simply exist on the stage; she comfortably ensconces herself in her role here. Johnson, best known for her work with the comedy troupe the Sufferettes, has a more frantic energy. Her character is described as having “a lot of personality,” but her anxious nature is too often exteriorized in this performance.
If MacIvor’s production was more in tune with Rutherford’s chill character, Manson’s is jittery like Johnson, full of jarring lighting changes and a sound design that calls attention to itself. There are movement sequences added in that sometimes add a nice layer, but don’t always feel organic. The ending is less maddening in a more obviously stylized production, though – and the play’s charms mainly survive.
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