Review: This Lime Tree Bower (Cart/Horse Theatre)

cast of This Lime Tree Bower

Cart/Horse Theatre brings McPherson’s rich dialogue to Toronto’s Berkeley Street Theatre

The folks at Cart/Horse Theatre are self-proclaimed “suckers for a good narrative”. Fortunately for Toronto theatre lovers, they are currently mounting a great narrative. It is called This Lime Tree Bower and it is onstage at Berkeley Street Theatre.

The play takes place in Dublin. It is the story of three young men, Joe, Ray and Frank. Joe and Frank are brothers. Ray is a philosophy instructor who is dating the brothers’ sister. The story involves crimes and coming of age. It is about the three loveable Irish scoundrels coming of age.

This Lime Tree Bower has a set that is deceptively simple. Three different chairs sit atop three identical two-step platforms. An earth-tone backdrop creates texture and mood. The backdrop looks like it may have been made from wood stolen from an old neighbourhood pub. Lindsay Anne Black has done a great job of bringing the non-verbal aspects of the play to life. She is guilty of one count of a great set and three counts of ideal costumes.

The three men, one on each chair, take turns delivering monologues. On the surface, that sounds boring. In This Lime Tree Bower it is riveting. They aren’t monologues at all, but intimate conversations between cousins or close friends in hushed tones. These are the type of conversations that begin with “Don’t tell anybody but…” Instead of two friends trading secrets on a bus, they happen onstage.

Joe (Antony MacMahon) is the first man we meet. He is the youngest of the three. Before MacMahon speaks, we notice his mannerisms. He summons up effeminate images. We think of Justin Bieber and boys who were ostracized on the playground. Both Stan, my collaborator in theatre-going for the evening, and I, are working class. This isn’t the sort of character who is readily accepted into our dark corners of the world, our factories. I think to myself “this is going to be a long evening.”

That McMahon can conjure up these memories by barely opening his mouth is hard to believe. Shortly into his first monologue, both Stan and I are on the edge of our seats. Joe has worked his magic, become our newest friend and we are hooked. We’re good friends. To accomplish this is nothing short of spectacular.

Gray Powell doesn’t play Ray, he becomes Ray. Watching his monologues was like helping him “get his story straight”. Stan and I started as theatre patrons. Powell turned us into accomplices.  We almost wanted to interrupt him to clarify and correct at times. The relationship between Powell and the audience reminded me of the bond between Harvey Keitel and Steve Buscemi in Reservoir Dogs.

Matthew Gorman is equally powerful as Frank. He’s a guy from the neighbourhood you don’t know but say hello to. Gorman nails the human nuances and details of Frank. He turns the words written on paper, the character, into a neighbour.

This Lime Tree Bower does take place in Dublin. The slang is a bit different than Canadian slang and the characters have different accents. The actors walk the fine line between accent and incomprehensible. They make sure that we never forget we are in Dublin. At the same time, they never have us scratching our heads wondering “what are they on about?”

Playwright Conor McPherson shared the title for this play with a 200-year-old poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Both are about being imprisoned, whether physically, mentally or geographically. Both are about youth, either wasted or enjoyed. This Lime Tree Bower is a play that is enjoyable regardless of what side of the fence you reside on.

I’ve only seen two of McPherson’s plays, but he is my favourite playwright. He is deceptively simple and haunting. McPherson creates dialogue that reminds me of David Mamet’s work. Both raise questions while creating scenes, images and phrases that one never forgets. I’ll remember Gray Powell asking a tenured professor a question the same way I remember Alex Baldwin’s “Always Be Closing” speech in Glengarry Glen Ross.

The writing, the acting and the set transported me to different places. One part of my mind hung onto every word while another recalled the past. Memories rolled in like fog while the narrative onstage kept me rapt. The conscious and subconscious collaborated. If only computers could multitask like plays! Sometimes a conversation on a bus is too short. Rarely is a play.

Sometimes something we think is going to be a long night turns into a blink of an eye. We say to each other “we’ll talk more later.” Incredibly rich experiences transcend time. That’s how we felt after seeing This Lime Tree Bower.

There was only one thing Stan and I didn’t like about This Lime Tree Bower; we didn’t run into Joe, Ray or Frank at The Dora Keogh afterwards and share a pint.


  • This Lime Tree Bower is playing from Decemeber 7 – December 22, 2012 at The Berkely Street Theatre 26 Berkeley St., Toronto
  • Shows run Monday through Satureday at 8:00 p.m.
  • Tickets are $10-$25
  • Tickets are available online or by phone at 416.368.3110

-Photo of the cast of This Lime Tree Bower by Scott Gorman