'The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale' by Haley McGee

Soulpepper Theatre

Dahlia Katz

Joe Szekeres

The phrase “she owned the stage” is often overused, but Soulpepper Theatre should be paying Haley McGee rent for the next two years.

This startling one woman show is produced by Soulpepper Theatre in association with Outside the March and Red Light District. Originally scheduled for May of 2020, the pandemic pushed it up two years. Haley’s own notes refer to the “value of delayed gratification” which could not be more true for this production.

Part bio, part documentary, part story and part therapy, ‘The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale’ is a whirling dervish of this entire list keeping audiences entranced with their heads on a pivot. Actually broke in London, England, Haley considers climbing out of monetary and emotional debt by having a yard sale of various items left behind by past loves. Prominently displayed are eight items that represent eight different relationships that have a variety of complexities. The play spins back and forth sometimes overlapping relationships.

Summoning economic theories, Haley’s goal is to create a formula for the cost of love and love lost. As she spoofs calculus with hilarious highlights, she is also accounting, metaphorically, not just the value of boyfriends, but also the value of her own life decisions. It is stunning how emotionally we are drawn into her volatile roller coaster.

Pre-curtain, the audience is invited to wander on stage to consider the items as one would at an actual yard sale. The audience guesses at prices, marks a ballot and the data is taken backstage. It seemed an innocent gimmick, but as it gets creatively fleshed out through the story, it becomes sparkling stagecraft. The rush of storylines feels like a college lecture on steroids. The fourth wall disappears as we could be sitting in a pushy workshop for timeshare investments – the cost of kraft paper must be enormous.

Underlying this entire tumult are the magnificent performance skills of Haley McGee. She immediately charms us with a hilarious rant about prostitution. She wins the audience with a blatant cheeky attitude skewering us with the underwhelming results of the item prices. Her eyes are almost a separate character. They can deadpan us into silence and then sparkle with a smile that lets us breathe again. A ”yes – no” speech is mesmerizing. She easily pours through a Joycean-style stream-of-consciousness moment and also invokes rap. Puppetry skills are on display with a talking backpack that reminds us of a Rolling Stones symbol and a jewellery box that may have been affected by its cannabis contents.

Haley roars across the stage tearing it apart by opening fire doors and blackout windows revealing clever displays of her mathematical fury. She throws herself into bubble wrap and shipping material with apparent insanity which is actually well-choreographed. Her comic timing is riveting.

Haley suggests that “good stories are good currency.” She asks us to consider whether an ordinary item like a t-shirt has more value if it is connected to a colourful tale. Haley has bared her soul in this production of great stories – but wait! There is more – her book of the same title has recently been published and it’s probably a great read.

‘The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale’ by Haley McGee

Performer: Haley McGee
Director: Mitchell Cushman
Lighting designer: Lucy Adams
Set and Costume designer: Anna Reid
Production runs through: November 6, 2022.
Tickets at: www.soulpepper.ca

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