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Actor-playwright Daniel MacIvor plays Peter in Let’s Run Away. You can’t look at the ridiculous, middle-aged figure of a pitiful Peter without also seeing a damaged young boy who was desperate for guidance and love.

Blair Harley/Handout

  • Let’s Run Away
  • Written and performed by: Daniel MacIvor
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Director: Daniel Brooks
  • Companies: reWork Productions, Canadian Stage
  • Venue: Marilyn and Charles Baillie Theatre
  • City: Toronto
  • Year: Runs to Sunday, Nov. 17

rating

Actor-playwright Daniel MacIvor has introduced us to some strange characters in the solo shows he’s created with director Daniel Brooks over the years, but Peter is the first one that made me want to cry.

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Peter is the angry, aggrieved (and possibly autistic) part-time homeless man who tells us his story in Let’s Run Away, the seventh and latest MacIvor-Brooks creation, premiering at Canadian Stage.

Peter lives in London, Ont. – sometimes at a motel where he does odd jobs, but more often, by preference, under a bridge. The unwanted child of a teenage mom, he was brought up in foster and group homes until he ran away with the circus at 14. He has dealt and used drugs, lived with various male lovers and at one time enjoyed some notoriety doing a silly lip-sync routine at local gay bars. Although you get the sense people were laughing at him rather than with him.

“I’ve lived a colourful life,” he tells us curtly. “I’m not proud of it.”

So far, so sad. But here’s the kicker. During all that time, his estranged mother, from a well-to-do American family, was living the high life in New York, partying with authors and rock stars. While she lived, she saw him only a few times and sent him a total of four birthday presents. When she died, the only thing she bequeathed him of value was a bass guitar once owned by punk-rock icon Sid Vicious.

She also left behind unpublished memoirs, in which her son is barely mentioned. The show is framed as a performance arranged by Peter, in which he reads us those few passages and offers his tart rebuttals. He also treats us to his lip-sync shtick, which turns out to have been a mockery of the only tender moments he spent with her – listening to her read Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.

MacIvor keeps the pathos at bay for most of the play’s 80 minutes with one of his splendidly eccentric portrayals. Comically cranky, with a touch of OCD, his Peter recalls both the angry, mentally awry Victor of House – the first of the MacIvor-Brooks solos – and Dougie, the neurotic trailer-park denizen in MacIvor’s most recent non-solo play, New Magic Valley Fun Town. But Peter has his own style of eccentricity, from his pink shirt with matching fanny pack, to his insistence on wearing his mother’s amber beads whenever he reads from her manuscript.

Then there’s Peter’s performance of a song he’s written on Sid’s bass guitar. His playing may be as rudimentary as the original owner’s, but the lyrics testify to Peter’s rambling creative mind. We get other evidence of that in a game he’s devised that involves systematically eliminating different objects from existence and then imagining the chain reaction their absence would cause.

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The audience gets a glimpse into Peter's rambling creative mind through his lyrics as he strums the bass guitar.

Blair Harley

Which brings us back to the pathos. Let’s Run Away becomes a meditation on how the absence of love affects lives. Peter’s need to respond to his late mother’s memoirs may be initially fuelled by bitterness, but it’s also the sign of an aching need to communicate with her that was unfulfilled while she lived and remains now that she’s gone. This show is his attempt to corner the woman who was forever running away from him.

Director Brooks has fun with the conceit that Peter has staged it himself. It’s as disorganized as the character’s thoughts. He stumbles about the darkened stage and snaps peevishly at the lighting and sound technicians when they miss their cues. His music choices are suitably idiosyncratic: blasts of punk rock one minute, Moon River the next. There’s even My Way – although, alas, not the Sid Vicious version.

Like the past MacIvor-Brooks pieces, Let’s Run Away is equally amusing and disturbing, but throughout I also felt a throb of pity. You can’t look at the ridiculous, middle-aged figure of Peter without also seeing a damaged young boy who was desperate for guidance and love.

Let’s Run Away continues to Nov. 17. (canadianstage.com).

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