Review: I’m Doing This For You (Soulpepper)

Soulpepper presents a one-woman show that is “funny”, “moving”, and “sad” on stage in Toronto

Hasn’t everyone, at some time or another, wanted to make that grand gesture? Surprise someone they love with the perfect gift? The thing they think the other person wants most? The thing that will cement their love forever? Soulpepper‘s production of I’m Doing This For You, Haley McGee’s one-person show, which opened Thursday at The Young Centre For the Performing Arts looks at these questions. The basic premise of the show is that a woman wants to give the man she loves an amazing gift for his birthday. He wants to be a stand-up comedian and she’s giving him a theatre and an audience. It’s a surprise.

My daughter Megan and I saw the show together and we both really enjoyed it. McGee is a terrific writer and actor; she isn’t afraid to take risks and they paid off.

McGee is the woman and the audience is the audience. She advertised for us on Craigslist promising comedy and cake. The shot of vodka we’re offered as we enter the theatre is a bonus. Don’t worry, it’s a tiny shot and you don’t have to take it. It does explain why the minimum age for admission is 19 and why ID is required. The audience is definitely in a party mood.

Shannon Lea Doyle’s set reinforces the party motif. Dozens of different size round balloons hang above the stage and are strewn on the floor. They are all white, translucent, or clear. It’s very simple but beautiful. On one side of the stage there’s a table and chair and a shelf with trays of cupcakes. On the other side there are small tables, each holding a tray of cupcakes. So many cupcakes.

The play opens in the dark. And stays dark for quite a while. McGee works with the audience to find the right note to start “Happy Birthday” and we practice it. And practice again. McGee wants this to be perfect. When she isn’t talking her breathing is nervous and shallow as she waits for the man to arrive.

There’s another scene in the play that’s performed in the dark. I estimate that almost a third of the play was in the dark. It was very effective.

I slipped out of party mood very early because I don’t trust mania and McGee’s character was manic in the beginning. Megan said the other thing she noticed was the character, as opposed to the actor, was wearing a costume, pretending to be someone else. Megan also noticed that the audience stayed in a party mood for a long time, even after it seemed obvious that the party was over.

I have to admit that I didn’t notice the rest of the audience, I was busy girding my emotional loins for whatever was going to happen. It wasn’t really anything unexpected, that’s just my reaction to manic behaviour. I spent the show reacting to McGee’s emotional twists and turns.

I’m Doing This For You is very funny, intense, moving, and sad. It’s a play that will stay with you, that you’ll think about after you leave the theatre. It’s well worth seeing. There are only three more performances and there aren’t a lot of seats left so you should probably buy your tickets right away.

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Photo of Haley McGee by Michael Peberdy Save

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