Chronicling a Love Affair with Canadian Theatre

margaret reid

Margaret Reid At Here For Now Theatre

What’s real? Who can you trust? Do we create our own truth or are we at the mercy of the truth of others? Margaret Reid, Madeleine Brown’s anarchic, surrealistic, and meta-theatrical examination of these existential questions may not answer them, but she sure gives us a lot to ponder.

The plucky Here For Now Theatre company is giving the play a sprightly world premiere production under its intimate tent nestled among the woods behind the Stratford Perth Museum. As directed by Monique Lund Margaret Reid is a lot of fun, delivering plenty of laughs along with plenty of puzzlement.

Cora (Louriza Tronco) and Debbie (Bethany Jillard) are 12-year-old kids competing in a public speaking contest when first we meet them. Cora is a seasoned pro. Debbie not so much.

Five years later, their roles seem to have reversed. Debbie is now winning all the prizes and is headed for the culminating contest in Toronto. Cora has withdrawn from the world of public speaking, but has sought Debbie out to share some disturbing information.

Five years later, at age 22, their circumstances have reversed yet again. Cora is now a high-powered motivational speaker and Debbie is a lost soul barely scraping by as a data entry clerk.

What links these two frenemies and explains the ups and down of their respective narratives is the mysterious figure of Margaret Reid (Carmen Grant). She is 12-year-old Debbie’s none-too-savoury babysitter. The fact that she smokes while pregnant is the least of her faults.

When it’s revealed, Margaret Reid’s horrible secret traumatizes the girls, upends their lives and literally haunts Debbie for years. Just when it looks like the mystery will finally be resolved we discover that . . . oh, never mind. Go see for yourself.

Director Lund has wisely chosen to fully embrace the play’s surrealistic weirdness. She uses Margaret Reid as a sort of puppet master to orchestrate the play’s three main sections. She manipulates the girls like store mannequins and assigns costumes. Children’s toys stand in for full-sized props and set pieces. Pop music punctuates the action.

It works remarkably well. Carmen Grant, tall, thin and angular, with expressions that manage to seem both inscrutable and chilling, makes an almost other-worldly Margaret Reid, which just may be the point. And when called upon to dance she is very funny indeed.

The kids, on the other hand, are played for real and here Lund is fortunate to have two terrific actresses as her disposal. Jillard and Tronco do a wonderful job of evoking tweens, adolescents, and young women. Playwright Brown has supplied them with dialogue that rings true in every respect.

Each of them has ample opportunity to shine. Tronco’s motivational speech in which we the audience get to stand in for a convention of entrepreneurs selling edible Tupperware (“It always gets lost anyway; why not eat it?”) is a real crowdpleaser.

Jillard arguably has the more challenging arc to trace and when her eyes are opened to the reality of her stolen life she is truly heartrending.

Brown’s technique of playing fast and loose with reality, blending realism played for absolute emotional truth with odd, surrealistic touches that remind us of the total artifice of theatre seems to be in vogue among Canadian playwrights.

I’m not sure that Brown answers the “what’s it all about, Alfie?” question – at least for me – and I felt that the twist ending was a wee bit of a cop out.

On the other hand, Brown is clearly a serious playwright worth watching. She’s also an actor, experience which has clearly enabled her to write dialogue that cooks. She’s in good hands at Here For Now and I look forward to her next outing.

Margaret Reid continues at Here For Now Theatre through July 29, 2023. For more information and to purchase tickets visit the Here For Now website.

(Image: Here For Now)

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