I’m rarely this bored in the theatre.
During Act 1 of Morag, You’re a Long Time Deid, I reassured myself by mentally repeating, “You have free will. You can leave at intermission.” My companion didn’t want to leave. Act 2 was a bit better.
My big problem with Morag, You’re a Long Time Deid is that it wants to be poetic, allusive, and deep, but it’s shallow and obvious.
Sam, the narrator and central character, who lives in Canada, receives her grandmother Morag’s piano, which has been shipped from Scotland. Inside the instrument, there’s a note from a woman named Jess, who’s been in possession of Morag’s piano in the many decades since Morag left Scotland for Ontario. Jess hopes Sam will be able to release the piano’s songs.
Hmm. Symbolically, music often equals sex, so …
There is, for a while, a bit of mystery around Morag’s death and there are references to Morag “losing her bells” and to delusions.
Sam proceeds to imagine Morag’s queer love for Jess. Using a man’s suit jacket to represent Jess, she plays Morag as the two of them sit at the piano and flirt. Sam’s Grandpa tells her that sometimes, when he looks at her, he feels that Morag is looking back at him.
“Okay! Okay!” I felt like screaming at Sam. “You’re a lesbian. Congratulations. You hope your grandmother was lesbian, too. Cool. Morag had mental-health issues. I get it!” This is all laid out very early in Act 1, but the script continues to play footsie with its subject matter — as if it weren’t very, very clear.
In the meantime, Sam reconstructs the lyrics to old Scottish ballads adding more positive spins to their representations of gender and queerness. In their shared program note, co-creators Claire Love Wilson, who plays Sam, and Peter Lorenz, who directed the show, write, “When we inherit something — be it a tradition, a song, or a silence — it comes with a weight, but also with an invitation to listen.” Fine. They’re attempting to examine tradition within specifically queer and musical contexts, but their approach is so deliberate and abstract that their material doesn’t land. Watching Morag, You’re a Long Time Deid, I had the feeling that Sam kept trying to convince me that her story was fascinating — without ever telling me a story.
Speaking of narrative, Daniela Atiencia was the dramaturge on this project, but there’s no evidence that anybody ever asked the question, Why is Sam so fixated on her grandmother? Is she having some kind of crisis? If so, what are the contours and specifics of that crisis?
Act 2 is better. There are plot points.
And the show as a whole has things to recommend it. Especially in improvised exchanges with audience members, Love, who plays Sam, is as fresh as a stick of celery. She’s a confident, sometimes disarming performer. And the two featured instrumentalists are gifts. I always enjoy Steve Charles’s expansive musicality: here, he plays several instruments and, in character as Grandpa or just being himself, he shares his vivacity as a stage presence. I’ve never encountered musical director Sally Zori before but they, too, are energetically expansive and their high-voiced singing is spellbinding.
I also want to mention the ceilidh in Act 1: Charles teaches willing audience members how to do this traditional Scottish dance and, while that’s happening, there’s some welcome tension in the room: will the audience members figure out the steps? And, most importantly, there’s something concrete going on. I could have done with a whole lot more of that.
MORAG, YOU’RE A LONG TIME DEID Co-created by Claire Love Wilson and Peter Lorenz. Produced by Claire Love Wilson and Peter Lorenz in association with Touchstone Theatre and co-presented by the frank theatre company. On Friday, June 10 at The Russian Hall. Running until June 19. All performances are relaxed. Tickets
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