'Marion' delivers perfection

By Michael Barnes
Saturday, May 18, 2002

Three sisters, trapped at a remote location, quarrel, laugh, cry and struggle to find meaning in their lives. Sound like a familiar theatrical scenario? At Hyde Park Theatre, it's not Anton Chekhov, Brian Friel or even Wendy Wasserstein, but rather Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor who builds a comic drama, "Marion Bridge," around three siblings coming to terms with middle adulthood in Sydney, Nova Scotia.

Agnes (Rebecca Robinson) is the unconventional one. Returning to the family house from a minor theatrical career in Toronto, she drinks too much, tangles with her sisters and avoids her critically ill mother because, years ago, she had forced Agnes to give away her newborn child.

Theresa (Emily Erington) runs the family, not only because she is practical, but also because she operates from some moral standing. She is pious -- and more religiously committed than we realize at first -- but suffers from furious spiritual doubts. She's also something of a nag.

Louise (Kelsey Kling) is considered strange because she is distracted by television shows or her friendship with a female farmer. Yet she's perhaps the best adapted to small-town life in Nova Scotia. Her demons are less fierce, but Louise takes the death of her mother the hardest.

"Marion Bridge" is a far more conventional play than "House" or "The Soldier Dreams," two previous MacIvor scripts directed at Hyde Park by Ken Webster. Yet, despite some bald clichˇs, it's a warm and humane treatment of that critical period in life when adults lose their parents and make peace with their pasts. It's also quite funny in an unforced way.

Webster has assembled a fault-free cast. Perhaps the most underrated actress in Austin, Robinson sculpts her lines with terrific theatrical acuity. She takes Agnes to the edge of hardness without making her unsympathetic. Veteran Erington exceeds even her best performances of the past, keeping all her responses understated until buffeted by a gut-wrenching speech in the second act. Newcomer Kling shows no trace of artifice, performing her character as sweet, half absent, but also entirely grounded.

Webster integrates every theatrical detail to the tiniest inflection and nuance. The play may not be profound, but the production is flawless.