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Daniel MacIvor, Darren O'Donnell in In On It
(Photo: Lisa Kiss)
Daniel MacIvor is a master at manipulating the audience. Seeing his latest play to hit New York, In On It, is like watching a car wreck in slow motion. A sinking feeling pervades your body as you realize the inevitability of what is about to happen.

In fact, an automobile accident is what MacIvor chooses to start his play. Standing alone on stage, the actor/director/playwright delivers a monologue about a man driving a car who is distracted for just a fraction of a second, then looks up to find a blue Mercedes barreling down on him. The scene is interrupted by a second actor, Darren O'Donnell, who walks on stage to question the playwright: "Are you sure that's a good way to start?"

From this point on, the innovative Canadian serves up a slew of twists and turns in the play's narrative that constantly has the audience reassessing who these characters are, what they mean to each other, and what they are doing. At first, it seems the two men are simply working together on a play: They take turns acting the role of Ray, a man who receives bad news at the hospital and whose domestic life is falling apart. But as they enact different scenes in the developing drama, O'Donnell's character continually questions the believability of the writing. "Some people may think you have a problem with women," he remarks; indeed, all of the play's female characters (played by both actors) are either drunk or stupid. The banter between the two men becomes more and more heated...and less and less about the play they are supposedly working on.

In On It subtly shifts to a focus on the relationship between the two men, who are revealed to be lovers. In addition to scenes from the play featuring Ray, the characters played by MacIvor and O'Donnell reenact moments from their shared past. If this seems confusing, it's less so in performance. MacIvor constructs his two-man play by imbedding layers within layers within layers. As the playwright, he plays a character who also seems to be a playwright; it is not an autobiographical persona, and yet there are constant references to the theatricality of the show. At one point, the two men debate the merits of the production's publicity photo, which features MacIvor sticking his tongue out towards O'Donnell's ear. MacIvor's character claims this makes him look demonic. O'Donnell then launches into a speech that deconstructs the image and its potential meaning.

If it's unclear who is speaking--MacIvor and O'Donnell as themselves, as performers, or as characters--that makes the production no less engaging. In fact, the self-conscious discussions about conventions within the play make it utterly theatrical. At one point, O'Donnell asks MacIvor why he's holding his hand in a particular way when acting the role of Brenda, Ray's wife. MacIvor pauses, looks down at his hand, and lamely replies: "I'm hiding my tie."

Both actors are extremely gifted. O'Donnell is the more energetic of the two, a quality that's noted within the play itself: MacIvor's character chastises his companion at various points for overdoing the emotions and physical attributes of different characters. As a performer, MacIvor has a subtler touch. Though capable of the high energy antics of his fellow actor, he often opts for a more soft-spoken approach. The two seem to have a natural chemistry. One exceptionally brilliant scene is a reenactment of the night when the two characters first became lovers. MacIvor, as playwright, sets it up brilliantly, but it is the performance that makes it absolutely hilarious.

As a director, MacIvor keeps the pacing quick and fluid despite the narrative interruptions and shifts in space and time. There is no set to speak of, so these transitions are signified only by the actors' vocal intonation and body posture, plus a few key lighting changes.

In On It is engaging, witty, and full of surprises. There's even a moment towards the end of the play when you think everything's going to turn out okay. MacIvor pours on both the laughter and the sentimentality in order to make the show's conclusion all the more devastating; though the playwright drops plenty of clues as to what is bound to happen in the end, it still comes as something of a shock.

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