Culture | The sombre side of the moon

Anna Trowbridge’s masterful A One Man Show For My Brother opens at Player’s Theatre

If over the years, you somehow lost your faith in the immense artistic talent of the McGill student body, or if you are simply looking to enjoy a stimulating and spectacular piece of theatre, venture to Player’s Theater, where A One Man Show for My Brother is playing. Written and directed by McGill undergraduate student Anna Roth Trowbridge, A One Man Show for My Brother is a powerful work of art engaging with its audience on a multitude of levels, raising questions about family, psychology, and the power of art.

As a playwright, Trowbridge weaves a delicate tale depicting a unique sibling relationship, plagued with the effects of mental illness, and fractured – yet not broken – by separation and death. Priscilla, now a grown woman and a writer, is drafting a one man show for her brother Leopold, who committed suicide some years prior. While Priscilla contemplates her brother’s life and the mysterious circumstances of his death, Leopold’s spirit emerges onstage in the form of a coyote, and together with his sister, they take the audience on an oscillating journey following the peaks and valleys of Leopold’s mental illness. Trowbridge’s astoundingly high calibre of writing presents the story in a way that transports the actors and viewers through time with ease and grace, and the terse yet rich dialogue tells the story with clarity.

The golden threads of Trowbridge’s ideas are further spun by her effective directorial choices. As Leopold and Priscilla travel back to their youth and reveal glimpses of their childhood, minimal set changes and subtle light changes immediately place us at their childhood home, a New Mexico cottage, or a bus terminal. The central set piece on the nearly-bare, black stage is a large yellow moon that also cleverly doubles as a shadow screen, behind which occasionally occur flashbacks or memories. Pacing is also used deliberately in the telling of the tale, chronicling Leopold’s emotional highs and pitfalls with intentionally oscillating speed.

All four actors demonstrate incredible focus and energy. Alexandra Montagnese does a beautiful job bringing the passionate but personable, gentle yet strong, Priscilla to life. She also transforms age with great skill and subtlety. Likewise, Cory Lipman is skilled at bringing believability to the fluctuating character of Leopold. Lipman allows Leopold, who as a character could potentially be over-the-top or awkwardly exaggerated, to remain grounded in his mania. Together, Montagnese and Lipman portray a relationship that is both unique and remarkably relatable. Marlee Rubel and Joel Burford play a variety of supporting roles, slipping in and out of the action with ease and agility.

A One Man Show for My Brother is dynamic, engaging, thought provoking, and professional in all respects. There is no sense of struggling story line or poor dialogue, as is often the case with amateur playwrights. The acting, direction, and production are all skillfully executed. Player’s Theatre took a risk by choosing to produce a student-written play as part of their regular season, and I believe their faith in the potential of McGill students has greatly paid off.