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'Age is a Feeling' written and performed by Haley McGee

Now onstage in the Michael Young Theatre at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in the Distillery District

Dahlia Katz

Joe Szekeres

‘Haley McGee tells her story with grace, dignity, and wit. ‘Age’ is the perfect play to begin the summer season at Soulpepper.”

Playwright and performer Haley McGee did not introduce the subject content of ‘Age is a Feeling’ in her programme note. She and her late friend Adam Brace (the original director and dramaturg of ‘Age’) made a good choice not to do that. They both agreed that the play should speak for itself.

This North American premiere of ‘Age is a Feeling’ does that, at least for me.

According to the programme, ‘Age’ has made waves at the Edinburgh Fringe, garnering an Olivier nomination, a Fringe First Award, and two sold-out runs at London, England’s Soho Theatre.

I just trusted Haley, in her charming and calm manner, to tell the story of her life beginning on her 25th birthday and moving forward from that point on. The play centres around one’s mortality. That’s the emotional appeal of this opening-night production.

It's a hard reality, but whether that triggers some does not stop the fact that death comes for us all, as Thomas More tells his daughter in ‘A Man for All Seasons’ before he was beheaded.

Each performance of ‘Age’ is unique on each particular day. No two performances will ever be the same.

Thanks to Mitchell Cushman's astute, sensitive, and in-tune direction, ‘Age Is a Feeling’ does not feel or become preachy. Haley did not engage in histrionics. She rarely moves as she makes us move closer and listen; if she does move, there’s a purpose and reason behind it.

‘Age’ celebrates life through laughter, tears, toil, stress, grind, family struggles, divorce, friendships, passion, children, and, most importantly, love. The reference to a white pubic hair sent the audience into gales of laughter. Periodically, her dry wit and sense of humour instill a sense of calm in a heightened dramatic moment.

Near the end of the play, a blasted cell phone ring went off from the audience. McGee didn’t allow that moment to faze her. Instead, she collectedly turned the moment back on the audience member. The tone in Haley’s voice said it all. Even though she appeared unfazed, I thought Haley was not pleased that a particular audience member did not silence her phone even after reminders. Sigh!!!!

Digression over.

But why does this celebration of life begin with the 25th birthday?

Well, that’s the age when the adult human brain becomes fully developed. Each of us will deal with his/her mortality in their manner and time. Hopefully, by the age of 25, individuals can and should recognize this precious gift of life each of us has been given and how quickly time can take this gift away.

What we do with that gift of life in time becomes the show's focus.

That’s a Christian theme; one slight quibble - a couple of times, Haley elevates earthly things and places them above God. That’s not what the Christian believes.

Zoë Hurwitz’s set design includes a lifeguard chair one would find on a beach centre stage. The chair is encircled by twelve floral tall, stemmed topiaries. On each floral arrangement are individual words such as DOG, FLOWERS etc. Haley takes certain words, moves to the stage’s apron and asks an audience member to pick two words. These are the words from which she will begin to tell a story from her life at a particular age. Some words will not be used at that performance, but that does not mean they will not be used in future shows.

At the top of the show, Haley sits on the chair and appears to peer out over the audience, looking at something. She says nothing for a few minutes but just watches. There’s dirt on her Capri pants. She wears a white top. Her hair looks windblown. She’s barefoot.

But she’s wise, oh, so wise, for what she has experienced and felt at the various ages in her life.

McGee delivers a bravura performance of skill, intensity, and silence, all perfectly timed for maximum emotional impact.

And Another Thought: Given the recent death of my mother two weeks ago and her mass of Christian burial, ‘Age Is a Feeling’ quietly re-emphasized once again to me how precious the gift of life truly is for all of us.

Thank you, Haley, Mitchell, and Soulpepper, for that joyful reminder to celebrate what life can, does and will continue to give to us.

Running time: approximately 75 minutes with no intermission.

‘Age is a Feeling’ runs until June 23 in the Michael Young Theatre in the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane, Toronto’s Distillery District.

For tickets, soulpepper.ca or call (416) 866-8666.

SOULPEPPER PRESENTS THE SOHO THEATRE AND HALEY MCGEE PRODUCTION
IN ASSOCIATION WITH LUMINATO FESTIVAL, TORONTO

‘Age Is a Feeling’ written and performed by Haley McGee
Director: Mitchell Cushman
Original direction and Dramaturgy: Adam Brace
Scenic Designer: Zoë Hurwitz
Lighting Designer: Daniel Carter-Brennan
Sound Designer: Robert Moutrey
Stage Manager: Meghan Speakman
Producer: Derrick Chua

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