Sargent & Victor & Me is a sweet little show, without “little” being any snide critique or backhanded compliment. Because little is celebrated a lot in Theatre Projects Manitoba’s final show this season. It’s there in the small, intimate, redemptive acts of support that link the residents of the titular Winnipeg neighbourhood as they drain into the local food bank for nourishment. It’s in the show’s obvious reminder these insignificant people – a red-letter pastor, a devoted elder, a callous chocolatier, an abused gangbanger et al – pack worlds of experience and perspective into their lives.
And it’s in the ability of a single performer/playwright to authentically, organically wrap other voices around her personal story of impending doom. Debbie Patterson, through the thinly veiled character of Gillian, lays out her losing battle with MS as her leg, bladder and pride desert her. Playful, energetic and engaging, Patterson flies through the first act’s thematic collage of monologues before the second act takes a darker narrative turn. Increasingly sentimental, romantic and image-rich, the play’s climactic arc and hanging resolution would be tough to buy from a different performer, but Patterson’s grounded, earthy performance and purposeful, tight direction from Arne MacPherson sell it.
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The two have help fitting infinite space onto the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film’s black box stage (here set up in an intimate, consciously theatrical thrust) from the score. I usually hate, haaaaaaaate underscoring in shows, a manipulative cue to audiences that “here comes the emotional part.” But a minimalist yet grand score from Christine Fellows and John K. Samson almost always feels supportive rather than smothering – an audible incarnation of the play’s spiritual heartbeat.
Despite a tremendous amount of crafting, rewriting and rethinking, the seams don’t show in Sargent & Victor & Me. That you’re left with the impression of having a very personal, challenging encounter with the performer (and a neighbourhood) is no little feat.
Sargent & Victor & Me
By Debbie Patterson
Theatre Projects Manitoba
Through March 9
Directed by Arne MacPherson; with Debbie Patterson; dramaturgy by Iris Trucott; original music and sound design by Christine Fellows and John K. Samson; lighting design by Hugh Conacher; set design by Andrea von Wichert; costume design by Maureen Petkau; movement by Ali Robson; stage managed by Michelle Lagassé.
Matthew TenBruggencate is a Winnipeg-based writer. He is owned by two cats. Follow him @tenbruggencate, where is he spreading nasty rumours about you.