nytheatre.com review by Heather J. Violanti
February 26, 2011
Boat Load pokes gentle fun at the autobiographical one actor show while showcasing a comic tour de force performance by writer/performer Jayson McDonald. McDonald, who lives and works in London, Ontario, plays “Gary Bazman,” a fictional character (and actor) who lives and works in a small town very much like London, Ontario. The conceit is that Boat Load is Gary’s autobiographical one-man show—part therapy session, part self-promotion, part disaster, and all heart.
Gary tells us the story of how he scrounged for $1,000 in 10 days—the fee to enter an important theater festival that could change his life. To get the money, he begs from his disapproving dad and stoner best friend, and hustles to a crazy last-minute job. But there’s a catch. Gary’s beloved cat, Mr. Tangerine, is sick and needs an operation in 10 days or he’ll die. Will Gary enter the festival and save his career—or will he save his cat? The conclusion is as poignant as it is ruefully comic.
The fictional frame allows McDonald to satirize the self-indulgent aspects of one-man shows as well as celebrate them. So while Gary gets to show off his acting chops—assuming such varied roles as his snobby alcoholic vet, his high and clueless best friend, his crazy possessive ex-girlfriend, even the sickly Mr. Tangerine—he also gets his come-uppance. His cell phone, for example, keeps going off in the most inopportune moments, bringing in another call from his girlfriend. Then, when pressed for time, he simply skips over a few light cues and some dialogue to vault to the conclusion.
As seamlessly directed by Jeff Culbert, McDonald displays fine comic timing and a flair for making his own sound effects (especially squeaky doors and drinks being “glugged”). He portrays the entire “boat load” of people in Gary’s life with precision and jumps between their personas at lightning speed. And he creates an entire world—or at least a broken down small-town Main Street—with just a chair and his imagination. If anything, transitions happen so abruptly that it’s hard to keep track of who’s who. (It’s not entirely clear, for example, who the toothless man is who gives Gary some words of wisdom about pets).
Still, Boat Load is a ruefully funny, utterly charming comedic tour de force. Beneath the comic veneer is a poignant story of one man’s frustration with his crumbling town and career—and his discovery that he just might be the architect of his own happiness.