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Dancing with Rage: Why Mary Walsh should stick to ambushing mayors instead of being on stage

Comedian Mary Walsh in her one-woman show Dancing with Rage.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO Mirvish Productions

2.5 out of 4 stars

Written by
Mary Walsh
Directed by
Andy Jones and Mary Walsh
Mary Walsh
Panasonic Theatre
Runs Until
Sunday, March 24, 2013

We all know about the mighty wrath of Marg Delahunty, the plastic sword-wielding princess warrior, whose surprise attacks can even terrorize a certain burly big-city mayor and send him scurrying off to speed-dial 911. But we never realized that Marg's righteous anger was born of abuse and neglect, fueled by booze and marinated in self-pity.

Yes, in Dancing with Rage , Marg, a.k.a. Mary Walsh, gets all serious with us. The beloved Newfoundland comedian's one-woman show, making its belated Toronto debut at the Panasonic Theatre, is a wildly uneven, sporadically hilarious attempt to dig into the psyche of her most famous creation – while at the same time taking her signature digs at Canadian politics, politicians and the insanity of modern life.

But Walsh is better at satire than psychology and the high points come when her feisty princess is on the warpath as usual, wickedly skewering her bêtes noirs . Like Rogers' customer service, or Prime Minister Stephen Harper – the latter described as a "crypto-fascist" whose speeches "sound even better in the original German." But when she sets out to explore Marg's past and motivations, she's on shakier ground.

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The show, as raunchy and garrulous as its lead character, takes the form of a quest. Marg, diagnosed with the visual impairment known as macular degeneration, decides she has to clap eyes on her long-lost love child before going blind. Apparently, back in 1967, a teenage Marg went rogue during a school visit to Montreal's Expo and became pregnant. Her mother insisted that the baby be put up for adoption and Marg has no clue as to what became of it.

As Marg embarks on her search, Walsh trots out many of her classic characters from CBC's This Hour Has 22 Minutes and its precursor, CODCO . They include amiably dopey Connie Bloor, the habitué of a doughnut shop called Joe Orton's. (That's just one of Walsh's theatre-literate allusions. She also manages to insert references to Macbeth and The Seagull .) And, most amusingly, there's macho knucklehead Dakey Dunn, whose old-school sexism is so blatant and ludicrous that it's almost endearing. Marg's elderly mother and Oprah-worshipping daughter also appear, which sets up the mother-and-daughter theme that looms on the horizon.

To play these multiple roles, Walsh changes her costumes and makeup onstage, or appears in video segments, or simply switches back and forth between voices. Sometimes she whips out a sock puppet to represent a lisping nun. (The Catholic Church, a favourite Walsh target, takes almost as much of a pounding as Stephen Harper.) When she's not in one of her guises, she reads from a weighty tome called The Little Girl Who Grew Up Next Door to Her Family , the tale of a dysfunctional upbringing that might be Marg's or might be Walsh's, or perhaps both.

At any rate, there's a real story in here about growing up as a woman of Walsh's generation and background, but it gets lost in a tangle of silly melodrama and Hallmark Card sentiments. It's as unsatisfactory as the lumpy staging – Walsh and her old CODCO compadre Andy Jones are credited as co-directors – which makes some weak attempts at slapstick and relies too much on the video segments. It's not a good thing when one of the show's biggest applause-getters is simply a montage of Princess Warrior Marg's greatest hits – including her infamous ambush of Mayor Rob Ford – that you could just as easily watch on YouTube .

Walsh does don Marg's glittering princess getup onstage as well, but to little purpose. She has more to say, and says it better, when she's not encumbering herself with costumes or a plot. Her opening patter and the monologues during her wardrobe changes are the best things here – a succession of topical zingers, acerbic reflections on the sorry state of feminism today, and warmly funny jokes about her 60-year-old body. If Dancing with Rage had just been 90 minutes of Mary Walsh doing standup comedy, it would be less ambitious but probably a lot more satisfying.

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