Young group doesn't disappoint

Gordon Jones
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Newfoundland Box Office gives high-quality production of 'Never Swim Alone'

Debuting in Toronto in 1991, Daniel MacIvor's exuberantly metatheatrical "Never Swim Alone" has held the stage well since then, the current production in the Basement Theatre of the Arts and Culture Centre being the third St. John's incarnation since 1999.

The three-handed, one-act play is a dramatically stylized account of rivalry between two guys, alpha-male Frank (burly Adam Clarke) and beta-male Bill (slender Andy Cahill). Dressed in look-alike business suits, equipped with briefcases and cellphones, their competitive bouts are refereed and scored by a female lifeguard in a swimsuit and high chair (Laura-Marie Smith).

Newfoundland Box Office presents Daniel MacIvor's play "Never Swim Alone" runs until Sunday at the Arts and Culture Centre Basement Theatre. Submitted photo

Debuting in Toronto in 1991, Daniel MacIvor's exuberantly metatheatrical "Never Swim Alone" has held the stage well since then, the current production in the Basement Theatre of the Arts and Culture Centre being the third St. John's incarnation since 1999.

The three-handed, one-act play is a dramatically stylized account of rivalry between two guys, alpha-male Frank (burly Adam Clarke) and beta-male Bill (slender Andy Cahill). Dressed in look-alike business suits, equipped with briefcases and cellphones, their competitive bouts are refereed and scored by a female lifeguard in a swimsuit and high chair (Laura-Marie Smith).

Directed by her whistle, the rivals engage in reciprocal carping, needling, back-biting, and one-upmanship, two swimming buddies comparing wives, children, houses, stock portfolios, and even private parts (with backs to the audience).

Language is smart and fresh, batted briskly back and forth or recited in unison. Dialogue is interspersed with direct audience address, as the two intimate frenemies play out the rounds of their duel. As the bout continues, the temperature rises, verbal aggression becomes progressively more intense, until finally the war of words is displaced by physical violence, as male competitiveness is anatomised and the deadly consequence of testosterone-fuelled antagonism is revealed.

First comic and sportive, finally ritualistic and menacing, the script still strikes home freshly and sharply, with a neatly satisfying sting in the tail.

The Canadian classic is performed this time round by a newly formed, young theatre company, so I did not arrive at the Basement Theatre with high expectations. However, I was immediately impressed by a wave-breaking soundscape and a crisp, symmetrical, white set, with a touch of colour accentuation in the yellow radio, green towel, and the referee's blue swimsuit.

Enter the two protagonists, who schmooze with the audience before starting the competition under the watchful and quizzical eye of the self-possessed female referee. Action and dialogue are snappy and authentic, characterization is persuasive, performance is polished and well choreographed.

Hey, this is a high-quality production, I was glad to discover. So, whether or not you have previously seen MacIvor's play, you will not be disappointed by this assured rendition by three talented performers, which fizzes along in a brisk 45 minutes.

Directed by Christy Ring, the Newfoundland Box Office production of "Never Swim Alone" continues in the Basement Theatre until Sunday, starting at 8 p.m., with an additional 2 p.m. matinee on closing day. Admission is $20 ($15 for seniors and students).

Organizations: Basement Theatre of the Arts, Newfoundland Box Office

Geographic location: Toronto, St. John's

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