Review: Was Spring (Tarragon)

Daniel MacIvor’s Was Spring showcases powerful performances in Toronto

So let’s start this with a public outing – I love me some Daniel MacIvor. When I was in theatre school out east,  his work equated to theatrical coolness and when I first moved to Toronto it was a thrill like no other actually getting to see his work. So it was with a tickle of dreamy anticipation that I went to see his latest piece – Was Spring – at the Tarragon’s Extra Space. Now this is a lot to put on a show, I could have been setting myself up for a pretty grave disappointment. I normally try my best to see things that I know little or nothing about to give the production the benefit of walking in Tabula Rasa.

So it is with glee and some relief that I can honestly say: if you are a fellow MacIvorite, you will not be disappointed. This is MacIvor both classic and rare as it has been both written and directed by him. I would also hazard to say that if you know nothing of the playwright and his style, even better. I found a gorgeous simplicity here – three chairs, great acting and beautiful language. It is the sweetest poetry that you will see on stage. He did for plays what Ondachi did for the novel – create a fluid stream consciousness and make it work as dialogue. More over make it real, funny and relatable.

We begin with Kitty. She is a sour and decrepit woman with a Maritime lilt in her voice saying things like “fella”. She seems as a bitter as an east coast wind, hardened by time and disappointment. She seems to be in a space where she is remembering and recreating her past. There doesn’t seem to be anyone in her life anymore, she is without freedom or space. And when one annoying neighbour walks into her house and sees her broken window and bucket of pee, she is sent to live in a home. This is a wonderfully paced, heartbreaking performance by Clare Coulter.

Then there is Kit, always sweet and idealistic. Ready for her big heart and dreams – ready to leave her farm town and take on the world. Ready to tell the story of her heart. She is the B-side of Salt Water Moon’s character Mary in a way; you nearly don’t want to look at the disappointment that awaits her. This is a slightly larger than life performance by Jessica Moss. I found her musical theatre tone a bit jarring off the top, but she grew on me and I loved her performance just as much toward the end. My date was less convinced and felt that she seemed “over her head” in this show. We both agreed that you couldn’t see much of her two older counterparts in her and wanted to see just that hint of connection a bit more. The most visceral tie in is a fun bit of choreography with peppermints that is impossible not to enjoy.

Connecting the two stories (and the one big story) is Caroline Gillis’s Kath. A beautiful performance both sour and sweet, both hard and heartbreaking. She does her best work grounding the two other performances and caustically jolting them back into her present day. Her realness combined with MacIvor’s rich prose is a theatrical match made in heaven and they know this – having worked together for over 20 years.

I want to digress for a moment here to pause on an article about their partnership that was included in my media packet that Tarragon handed to me. I see it fit to bring up as it was part of the show’s marketing. It was Kate Taylor’s comments about Gillis that very unfortunately were also the logline of the article. Taylor says, “Solid, fleshy, gap-toothed, and now middle aged, Gillis may appear an unlikely muse”. I have much to say on this ridiculous wording but for my purposes in this moment, I think if MacIvor’s “muse” was say, Daniel Brooks or Don McKellor (who have also helped to create repeated work from MacIvor) we would not even being paying attention to the alignment of his teeth or the size of his thighs. What a shame.

Particularly because here you have a wonderful and original piece of Canadian Theatre with three strong, layered roles for women. I won’t tell you how it ends but I left the theatre surpringingly unable to speak, as though a catch in my throat prevented my voice from making noise. Such is the power of MacIvor. Such is the power of three amazing performances. Such is the power of theatre.


Was Spring is playing at Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman Ave) until May 6, 2012.
– Shows run Tuesday to Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2:30pm and 8pm, Sunday at 2:30pm
– Tickets range from $21 to $51
– Tickets are available b calling 416-531-1827 or online

One thought on “Review: Was Spring (Tarragon)”

  1. Just wanted to say thanks for bringing up that line from the Globe article which I found tasteless and completely unnecessary.

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