REVIEW: Dancing With Rage
I’m torn. Seeing Dancing with Rage, written and performed by television celebrity Mary Walsh and produced by the Great Canadian Theatre Company, last Thursday night left me with some mixed feelings. On one hand I know that this isn’t an overly provocative piece of theatre nor is it the cleanest in terms of plot and story. On the other hand, I felt privileged to be in the presence of this woman who has been such a proponent of Canadian culture and as such believe that the validity of this show comes from the performer and her contribution to comedy.
Mary Walsh, for those who don’t know, is an original member of CODCO, a sketch comedy series that ran on CBC Television from 1987-1992, who then went on to help create the political satire This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Anyone who is a fan of either of these shows will certainly appreciate Dancing with Rage as some of her well known characters make appearances, most prominently the infamous Marg Delahunty- Warrior Princess, who gained notoriety from bombarding unsuspecting politicians with questions ranging from hard-hitting to mildly uncomfortable. Even if you’re not familiar with Walsh’s characters, there is still a lot to enjoy.
After being diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease that will eventually leave her completely blind, Ms. Delahunty embarks on a quest to find the estranged love child she conceived when she was sixteen on a school field trip to Expo ’67. Along the way we are introduced to a number of colourful characters including (but not limited to) Raine, Marg’s Oprah worshipping son; a sleazy French-Canadian taxi driver; and senile matriarch Ms. Delahunty Sr. While the characters are certainly funny individually, the few times that more than two characters end up in a scene together the transitions between them becomes messy and unclear, specifically in the final scene. It is here where Walsh’s familiarity with acting on television becomes apparent.
This becomes even more apparent through the heavy use of video and projections onto the three very large white screens set upstage. The integration of video specifically divides the piece in such a way that it becomes similar to that of a sketch comedy show. Through this we can see how the performer is trying to create a feeling of variety through on-stage and on-screen vignettes. The images projected onto these screens are used to represent place and time as well as Marg’s current state of vision. Having film as a predominant element can be risky in a stage play, yet, given Walsh’s particular background, I think that this use of technology is appropriate, if not quintessential, for this show.
Similarly, the text itself, though somewhat muddled in parts, is completely representative of Walsh as the comedienne Canada has come to know and love. Certainly a lot of the subject matter is drawn from Walsh’s own life, but it is her pointed commentary on political and cultural issues that makes up the strongest material and leaves the audience in stitches. In particular, one of my favourite moments is her tirade on third-wave feminism and her very specific use of hockey tape.
In sum, trying to review this piece’s theatrical merit would be doing a great disservice to Walsh and work. No, Dancing with Rage doesn’t push any real boundaries artistically, but I believe that just being in the same room as this Canadian icon who has “mercilessly expos[ed] our collective contradictions” through her “ruthless examination of our public figures” (as quoted from the official program) and being exposed to an hour and a half of what Walsh does best- sketch comedy and performing caricatures- is reason enough to see this show.
Ottawa audiences obviously agree having sold out the run before the production even opened.
If you’re lucky, you can catch Dancing With Rage playing at the Irving Greenberg Centre until April 6th.
Dancing With Rage
Written and Performed by Mary Walsh
Co-Directed by Andy Jones and Mary Walsh