"I wish I could be one of those people who say, 'Let the play speak for itself,'" says Daniel MacIvor of his new play Cake and Dirt. When I suggest that the press material touting the play is a little "convoluted," MacIvor laughs. "You mean vague? That's why press agents hate me. Not this one. They just told me to write something up, so I did." He then paraphrases Judith Thompson who said that if she could distill the essence of what a play was about, she would just write it on a piece of paper and hand it out on a street corner. "It would save an awful lot of work," says MacIvor.
Recalling the works of MacIvor's that I have seen - The Best Brothers, His Greatness, A Beautiful View, Arigato, Tokyo, as well as the dazzling one-man shows that composed an entire season at Buddies - I begin to sympathize with his dilemma. I doubt I could summarize any one of them beyond: It was brilliant, hilarious and you should see it. "I'm so conscious of reducing a play to a sound bite," says MacIvor. "It's the kind of thing you really have to experience."
So we begin to pull the press release, MacIvor's own work, apart, point by point:
"I've been wanting to write a play with bite and a few years ago, in one of the communities that I am a part of, there was a scandalous event."
MacIvor won't name the event, but confirms that it happened mainly within the Toronto theatre community, "I was on Facebook at the time and there was just all this outrage exploding. Finger-pointing, anger and rants. The sound of the ego screaming. I felt it but I said to myself, 'I can't be part of this,' so I committed Facebook suicide. You can't just get off Facebook. You have to delete everything. Each picture, each post. It took two full days.
"Then I started thinking in the bigger picture of how we operate, of selfishness. I was reading Jane Jacobs and the play looks at Toronto, and a certain strata. The ones you might meet if one chose to wander for a day about Yorkville. It takes place in a high-end penthouse in midtown. I have had some dealings with these people, as an artist I'm allowed entry. The jester gets to come to court. It's a privileged, entitled world. I have benefited from privilege, absolutely. But I come from a working class, pretty dysfunctional family home. But I don't feel intimidated."
Cake and Dirt takes place "in the aftermath of a champagne-fueled birthday party."
"It's 90 minutes in a room with very unsavoury people," says MacIvor. "It's like walking into a kitchen party after a boozy night. The conversations overlap and it sounds like absurdism but this is how we talk. I might be confusing at first but it all comes together and makes sense. It will be polarizing, everyone is so unlikable. There's a character, Jeff, who is very obnoxious and quite drunk and everyone has been coming to me and say, 'Ummm, about that guy . . ." And I have to reply that I married that guy some years ago."
Cake and Dirt is "a mystery of consequences and causes, a parable of deceit, and an urban ghost story."
"I can't give that away," says MacIvor. "I put that in to keep the audience awake. I'd be very happy to listen to people just talk for 90 minutes but that's not how the theatre works. It is," he stresses, "a dark comedy. I like to give people something to take home. It's a little polarizing. I can guarantee there will be a lot of interesting conversations afterwards."
Cake and Dirt stars many fine actors including David Storch (Arigato,Tokyo).
"I love David Stortch," enthuses MacIvor. "He's the best and handsome. I have to check myself when I'm writing, he takes his shirt off twice in the play. I'm not sure if it is unnecessary nudity or if it is the plot."
And in case we had forgotten, Macivor reminds, "It's a dark comedy."
Cake and Dirt runs Tues, March 3 to Sun, April 12 at Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. tarragontheatre.com