by Jim Murchison
Fly Me to The Moon is the second play by Marie Jones to play in Ottawa this season. The first one was Stones in His Pockets and both have been directed by insightful Irish Canadian John P Kelly. Sarah Waghorn's set focuses on the stage right bedroom but the brownstone townhouses are a prominent backdrop reminding you that you are in working class Belfast. The set is simple and honest, like the play.
The action takes place primarily in the bedroom of Davy Magee, an 84 year old invalid who is a fervent Frank Sinatra fan that loves to play the horses. He is under the care of, among others, Frances and Loretta. Although Frances and Loretta are the only characters we see on the stage, their conversations inform us of the struggle of a host of characters and their lives in Belfast.
It won't spoil it to let you know that Davy Magee dies early on and the premise of the story is that if the poor bugger had died just a few hours later he would have had a little more to his name and been just a wee bit more content. The story is very much like a pared down version of Waking Ned Devine. By reducing it to just two characters on stage, you get a more detailed and intimate examination of the dilemma of good but flawed people with very little, faced with the temptation of the "victimless" crime. It is deeply, darkly funny and to my mind the better of the two plays because of the simplicity that helps it to stay profoundly focused.
Frances is the more street wise and cynical of the two caregivers. Mary Ellis plays her with an edge that is a little hard but not overtly bitter. Her matter of factness and frank understanding is played in a perfect key that always rings of honesty. I instantly knew her character was a smoker before it came up, simply by her performance.
Margo MacDonald plays the more naïve Loretta like Eve with the apple dangling in front of her. But there is more to Loretta than the wide eyed doe. She isn't quite as naïve as she seems. It's more that she hasn't allowed herself to think of darker things out of respect for her own Catholic guilt.
The interaction between the characters is hilarious as each layer of complication falls upon them. It is a tribute to the acting and the direction that the audience reacts at the point of the lightbulb going off anticipating what their next move will be. Speaking of the direction, John P Kelly mentions in his opening notes that he loves Belfast and knows the characters very well. Well, it clearly shows. There is great skill, care and respect for the characters and a keen understanding of their sense of humour, which is an important aspect of their survival instinct.
This is the Canadian première of Fly Me To The Moon and it would be hard to imagine a more delightful, honest and funny presentation of such deliciously flawed characters than what we have in this production.