Swimmers need lessons

Daniel MacIvor is one of Canada’s most respected playwrights, and with credits including an acting role on CBC’s Twitch City and a nomination for a Governor General’s Award, his popularity is steadily rising. Part of what makes MacIvor’s plays notable is his ability to weave wit and sensitivity into unnerving and complex patterns—a talent which makes plays like Never Swim Alone difficult to produce.

PlayerKing Productions has proved its gutsiness simply by staging a production of Never Swim Alone. The production, however, never attains the feverish intensity which MacIvor’s script demands.

The impact of Never Swim Alone depends entirely on the dynamic between the three characters. Lines from different characters are often delivered simultaneously, or volleyed back and forth at high speeds, so the synergy between actors is extremely important.

Jacob James and Will Taylor play generically-named businessmen, Bill and Frank, who are boyhood rivals turned cut-throat competitors. They attempt to one-up each other in rounds with titles like ‘Stature,’ ‘Uniform’ and ‘Who Falls Dead the Best’. The chemistry between the two actors supports the scripted relationship, and culls many of the laughs from the exchanges and simultaneous dialogues from MacIvor’s verbally intensive script. The testosterone-charged anxiety of the men is offset nicely by the deliberate smugness of their female judge, played ably though unspectacularly by Marnie McCourty.

The first part of the play is comedic in tone, and draws the audience into the story with subtle portrayals of excess-worshipping businessmen. While James and Taylor don’t get the best of MacIvor’s material, they do an adequate job of rendering the characters into realistic people.

However, as the play progresses and becomes more viscerally challenging, the duo is unable to meet the high physical and expressive demands of the script.

The play gradually breaks down, as a great script is hinted at, but never brought to life. The most important sequence calls on the actors to chant intricately-coordinated lines while pretending to swim. The actors were clearly too tired by that point, and the sexual tension needed to ignite the scene simply wasn’t there.

PlayerKing’s Never Swim Alone is an excellent opportunity to see a great Canadian play, and the production certainly does not detract from the script’s inherent quality. However, it does not do it full justice. The young members of PlayerKing likely had an educational experience putting on this show, and their future productions may benefit from the experience gained from MacIvor’s play. But in the long run, Never Swim Alone will not satisfy most seasoned theatre-goers.

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