“Skydive is an action-adventure-comedy featuring Daniel, an emotional mess, afraid to even leave the house, and his estranged brother Morgan, who has launched a career in a radical new therapy after failing as the lead singer of an 80’s cover band” – event description on the Magnetic North website.
When the curtain rises on Skydive, the first thing you will notice is that neither actor is touching the ground. They are being held up by these pieces of crane-like machinery called ES Dance Instruments that are hidden from view, at least for the first half of the play. This allows the actors to rise high above the floor, to flip upside down, and to have the freedom of space that one might have in a dream. The show talks a lot about dreams: Daniel (played by Lee Vincent) has nightmares about falling, so his brother Morgan (played by James Sanders) suggests he try skydiving to get over his fear of heights – and everything else.
Now I’m going to share with you a little piece of inside theatre gossip. In real life, actor Sanders is quadriplegic and therefore moves about in a wheelchair. From what I could tell from his biography posted outside the theatre, this is his first major onstage performance. In fact, the producing company appears to have been created exactly for the purpose of putting him onstage, as per its mandate: “REALWHEELS creates new plays to deepen the audience’s understanding of the disability experience.”
At the risk of sounding insensitive, this is not a good enough reason for me to see a play. I mean, it cannot be the only reason. Perhaps, for some people, the novelty of seeing a quadriplegic actor onstage is enough; it is something they can discuss with friends. Perhaps they themselves have physical disabilities and seeing a play like this – in which a disabled actor can move around freely – is rewarding and life-affirming and all that good stuff.
But for me, once I understood the mechanics of the production (which took about five minutes), I had little other reason to stick around. Both actors were fine, but not memorable: they had this familiar Ernie and Bert relationship (in fact, they sort of sounded like those Sesame Street characters…). Although the actors were able to move freely through the air, still I found the blocking rather stagnant as they kept returning to the same positions onstage, often just “sitting” facing each other. I found it interesting when, part way through the play, the machinery and the operators were revealed to the audience. But then I wasn’t entirely sure what that was supposed to indicate. At the end of the show, Sanders rolls out in his wheelchair, presumably to reveal the “secret” behind the production.
The script is written by Governor General’s Award winning playwright Kevin Kerr. Renowned for his moving play Unity 1918 and his wonderful work with Electric Company Theatre, this is not Kerr’s best piece of writing. It relies far too heavily on the use of 80s pop music and contains some really cheesy dialogue: defending his mispronunciation of certain words, Morgan says “Po-tay-to, Po-tah-to,” and Daniel replies “More like potato, potassium” and Morgan muses “I thought potatoes were mostly starch…” and, well, you get the picture. There is some good speculation on Freud and Jung, but I would much rather read about it on paper than see it onstage.
Skydive plays until Sunday at the Magnetic North Theatre Festival.
Additional note: After seeing Skydive yesterday evening, I show-hopped to the theatre next door and saw Act 2 of Nevermore for the second time. Did I mention I’m obsessed?