Lynda Boyd, Nicola Cavendish, and Beatrice Zeilinger in Marion Bridge. Photo by David Cooper.
Lynda Boyd, Nicola Cavendish, and Beatrice Zeilinger in Marion Bridge. Photo by David Cooper.

It would be easy to recommend Marion Bridge, currently playing at West Vancouver’s Kay Meek Arts Centre, simply to see Vancouver theatre icon Nicola Cavendish perform one last time before she retires. But while Cavendish gives a bravura performance worthy of her exit from the stage, Marion Bridge is so much more.

Written 20-years ago, Daniel MacIvor’s is a surprisingly timeless piece of Canadian theatre as it tells the story of three estranged and broken sisters who return to their childhood home to care for their dying mother.

As with most family dramas of its kind, each of the sisters comes damaged in some way. Agnes (Lynda Boyd) is a struggling actress with a drinking problem; Theresa (Cavendish) is a nun with a crisis-of-faith; and Louise (Beatrice Zeilinger) continues to deal with being perceived as a little “strange”.

It is easy to see how in a lesser production these three characters and their problems could easily devolve into enough melodrama to equal the soap opera that plays too loudly on the television in the background. However, under Roy Surette’s sure direction and the performances by this trio of veteran actors, it is a sentimental, and often very funny, journey to familial reconciliation that never feels maudlin.

For all its authenticity though, conjured to near perfection by this cast, MacIvor also injects three monologues which hamper rather than enhance. While they may give each actor an opportunity to shine individually, they could just as easily be excised from the script. It is, however, a small sacrifice to see these three women together on stage.

While Cavendish may be the draw here, it is Boyd who gives the best performance of the night. No small task given Cavendish and Zeilinger give tremendous performances as well, but Boyd finds a quirky rhythm to Agnes that instantly draws you to her. Granted, Boyd has some of the more meaty moments in MacIvor’s dramedy, including a surprising revelation, but her natural delivery and carefully crafted business makes each of those moments believable. This is a fitting return for Boyd to the stage, who has been absent from the theatre for fourteen years.

There is an ever-so-brief moment early in Marion Bridge where one could easily see Louise as a caricature. But there is so much skill in Zeilinger’s portrayal of this odd duck that any doubts are set aside and it very quickly morphs into a truly delightful performance. There is a fine balance between Louise’s eccentricities and profound observations that is endearingly captured by Zeilinger.

If you’re going to go out after a 42-year career on stage, Marion Bridge may not be the meatiest of female roles, but is still a great choice. Cavendish, who apparently pitched the idea of the play to the Kay Meek a couple of years ago, finds her own perfect balance between her somewhat unlikable character and the heart that lies just below the surface. A pitch perfect performance, there is no artifice here; the laughter, the tears, and the fear are all genuine.

Nicola Cavendish gives a pitch perfect performance in her final role before she retires. Photo by David Cooper.
Nicola Cavendish gives a pitch perfect performance in her final role before she retires. Photo by David Cooper.

Set designer Tiko Kerr’s signature style is immediately recognizable, with the stage framed in a surreal representation of the Cape Breton landscape and a whimsical wallpaper for the interior of the family home. Traditional music from the area helps with transitions.

But what rings truest in this Marion Bridge is the connection these three women manifest in their characters and with each other on stage. While the circumstances and choices each has made in their lives may be different from our own, there is a recognition, an understanding of the bond family has, warts and all. It is here, beyond the trio of very fine performances, that ultimately makes Marion Bridge worth visiting.

Marion Bridge by Daniel MacIvor. Directed by Roy Surette. A Kay Meek Arts Centre and Wing & Prayer Productions presentation. On stage in the Kay Meek Studio Theatre (1700 Mathers Ave, West Vancouver) until September 20. Visit kaymeek.com for tickets and information.