Madcap and moving: The Margin of the Sky from Teatro, a Fringe review

Celina Dea and Mathew Hulshof in The Margin of the Sky, Teatro La Quindicina, Photo by Marc J Chalifoux

The Margin of the Sky (Stage 11, Varscona Theatre)

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

It’s somehow fitting that this 2003 Stewart Lemoine comedy about the mystery of inspiration and creation is revived by Teatro La Quindicina as the finale of their 40th anniversary season, (and their last appearance at the festival where they were born).

The Margin of the Sky, one of my favourite Lemoines, follows its characters through a dizzying day of  impulsive adventure in L.A., land of perfect sunsets on the edge of the world, concepts waiting to be pitched, dazzling possibilities. It starts in chance encounters.

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A woman sits on a park bench, by chance chokes on a chicken salad sandwich, and gets rescued by chance by a passing Canadian. He is, by chance, a playwright struggling to write a screenplay for his L.A. soap star brother-in-law. And in the course of the day with his new friend Alice (Jana O’Connor), Leo (Mathew Hulshof) will make a huge discovery about the infinite horizons of his work. 

Meanwhile, the soap star (Josh Dean), sitting in a chiropractor’s office, has his mind blown by a piece of music and the stranger (Celina Dean) who provides it via her earphones. He isn’t used to eye-watering experiences, or being “overwhelmed.” 

Josh Dean in The Margin of the Sky, Teatro La Quindicina. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux

That the music is Gurrelieder, a monumental orchestral setting by the German composer Arnold Schoenberg of a Danish poem that gives the play its title, is pure Lemoine. And its lush emotional vastness is a life-changer in different ways for the quartet of characters, in the course of a day that feels heightened somehow, giddy, a bit like a dream, or a hallucination. The margaritas in Santa Monica are real, though, not that slushy kind.

It’s an expansion of vision, I guess, the possibility of seeing the world from other, perspectives or other worlds beyond — an exchange of sunglasses over sunset drinks, as one scene sets it forth. 

In a terrific and subtle comic performance by Hulshof, Leo gradually discovers that his fine-tuned Canadian sense of irony will only get you so far in creation. (note to self: something to ponder at the Fringe). Dean is very funny, too, as a star, just a bit fatuous in his assumptions and used to the easy path through the world of daytime television and fandom. He gets diverted off the glossy main route, and he’s startled by his own capacity for not being shallow.  

Mathew Hulshof and Jana O’Conner in The Margin of the Sky, Teatro La Quindicina. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux

The women are a delightful contrast in performances from O’Connor and Celina Dean: Alice the good-natured bookkeeper whose natural reaction is to say yes to adventure and be wonderstruck; Sheila the crisper high-end dress shop owner whose LA. self-possession gets a little shake-up, too. When Leo, in a magical moment of transformation, declares them “absurdly lovely,” he’s dead serious.

The ending is a framing surprise, so I won’t spoil it. I’ll just tell you that it makes you understand the excellent adventure in a new way. It’s madcap and it’s moving, like those margaritas, “serious drinks in whimsical glasses.” Like Spence your eyes will be shiny.   

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