Time collapses over itself in Magnificence, one short hour engaging its audience in almost one hundred years of history.
Directed by Paul Van Dyck and written and performed by Keir Cutler, Magnificence is an original monologue that recounts the memoir of the actor’s late mother, May Ebbitt Cutler. The show’s principal narrative is set in Mont-Tremblant, recalling the events of a late summer evening in the 1930s. While the story we follow is one of courage and honour, acknowledging the virtuous actions of an Indigenous woman named Madame Dey, the focus of Magnificence lays on the importance of sharing these stories.
Magnificence began with a land acknowledgement that seamlessly brought us to the crux of the performance: the merit of recognition and retelling. Perched on a high-stool, Cutler teased the audience with excerpts from his mother’s memoir, I Once Knew an Indian Woman (1967), cutting the story short before reaching its climax. Anticipation hung over the audience as Cutler declared, “Sorry, the book is out of print!,” hooking the audience with an urgent need to know more. Breaking from narration, the performer calls into question his responsibility—and more generally a person’s responsibility—in continuing another’s story. Second-hand memories weave together glimpses of the past, culminating in a touching story of goodwill, generosity, and humanity that no audience member will forget.
Magnificence is skillfully written: using its own form and structure to support its message, the show exemplifies the importance of passing forward stories, by story-telling itself. Cutler recounts his mother’s memories as though he were present, stepping into her story and expertly bringing the audience along with him. The artist’s commendable performance permitted the audience to connect with Magnificence’s characters, and made antiquated accounts of the 1930s resonate among a contemporary crowd. As a result, we live through Magnificence’s events as though we, too, were a part of them.
Madame Dey is the story’s central character. In only a few anecdotes, Cutler brings her back to life, recognizing the value she brought to her community as a healer, midwife and compassionate neighbor. More than halfway through the performance, the audience is still unaware as to what the crisis in question is. Instead of arching the story with plot, Magnificence approaches its climax through the development of its characters, mapping them so vividly and thoroughly that anticipation guides the audience in piecing together the story’s resolution.
Magnificence is an engaging interrogation of memory, reflecting on how impressions are formed and remain relevant. With the repetition of “memories fade, stories endure,” the performance suggests story-telling as a means to share and thus prolong a memory’s life. Nonetheless, Magnificence still asks, is there a difference between learning something through story-telling and living it? I opine that Cutler’s invested performance revealed the conclusion: it didn’t matter that he hadn’t lived these memories, as their stories undeniably live in him. They are as much his as he is theirs, and as the play progressed, they went on to become ours.
Soft indie music sparkled over the house as the performance came to a close. The venue was warm and my heart felt full with connection. I left the performance reminiscing over something I’d never had the chance to experience: Magnificence had effectively brought the past into the present, transforming fleeting history into a lasting legacy.
“WHO THIS SHOW’S FOR”:
Colourful story-telling for nostalgic Montreal souls.
Doctor Keir Co. presents “Magnificence”
at the 29th St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival
Performances: May 29 – June 15, 2019
Venue: OFF B – Espace FreeStanding Room
4324 Saint-Laurent, Suite 300 Montréal, H2W 1Z3
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from this year’s fest on our Fringe page!