Volume 94, Issue 54

Tuesday, December 5, 2000


That's a good play, Charlie Brown

Disc of the Week

Biographical play an inspiring work

Biographical play an inspiring work

Gazette File Photo
LET'S TRY TO LOOK LIKE WE'RE NOT POSING. The cast and crew of Beard share a moment with Roy McDonald on Richmond Street.

Beard: A Few Moments in the Life of Roy McDonald

Starring: Jeff Culbert, Caitlin Murphy, John Turner, Dan Ebbs

Directed By: Jason Rip

By Matt Pearson
Gazette Staff

"What's so special about you?"

A formidable question and one which lies at the heart of writer/director Jason Rip's newest work, Beard. Based on the life of London's most famous poet/philosopher, Roy McDonald, the play recalls a number of integral moments in McDonald's life. It does not, however, attempt to be an authoritative biography.

The opening scene shows McDonald (played by Jeff Culbert) at his usual junction, outside of Richmond Street's Joe Kool's, singing folk songs for passersby. From there, it retraces his life, beginnning with childhood.

Throughout his adolescence, McDonald rejects school, the Canadian Air Force and eventually, the constructs of gainful employment. He becomes engaged and later, disengaged, wears a suit to Woodstock and somewhere along the way, develops a serious alcohol addiction.

This addiction, one that nearly took his life on more than one occasion, is a focal point of the play. A number of wrenching scenes show a disoriented McDonald, bottoming out and waiting to die before the suicide of a young friend shook him so deeply, it caused his drinking to subside for good.

In the years following his drinking days, McDonald began to write and lecture prolifically, quickly becoming an icon on Western's campus before being temporarily and abruptly banned in 1992. After enraged members of the local media attacked Western's administration, Roy was invited to return. Between his appearances on campus and on the streets, Roy's dramatic journey was complete.

Bringing this compelling story to stage would provide any cast with a number of challenges, but this group handled the material very well. The set and costuming were simple but quite effective. The bulk of the action occurred in the centre and on the right side of the stage, leaving the left side for moments in the present. During those brief moments, McDonald addresses the audience much like a narrator would.

Beard's players were nothing less than tremendous. The small supporting cast each played a number of roles, changing costumes on stage to denote a character change. As a unique twist, they also sat on the right side of the stage when they weren't directly involved in the action. Although it dealt with a number of serious issues, there was no shortage of laughs.

One particularly funny scene was McDonald's meeting with an Air Force sergeant. The bumbling, apologetic McDonald, was no match for the heartless, steely sergeant, who berated him with innumerable insults. Not surprising, Roy's tenure in the Air Force didn't last very long.

Despite the fine performances of Caitlin Murphy, John Turner and Dan Ebbs, it was Jeff Culbert who carried the production. His tour de force performance as the engrossing McDonald was brilliant. From the physical similarities, to the dark days of drunkeness, to the sadness of realizing he never told his mother how much he loved her when she was living, Culbert captures every nuance of McDonald.

The final moments bring the play to life as Roy McDonald himself joins Culbert's interpretation of him in a rousing musical number. That song, slightly out of tune, is surely what's so special about Roy McDonald.

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