Monday, 16 May 2016

The Door You Came In

Songs and Stories from The Danger Tree
Douglas Cameron and David Macfarlane

When author Alice Munro discovered David Macfarlane's book The Danger Tree she wrote that she was "stunned. It is so good. [It's] about the best prose ever to come out of this country, for my money." That's high praise coming from one of Canadian literature's luminaries.  Now we have selections of it on stage as spoken word from David Macfarlane's own lips as a 90-minute production.  But what completes the moving words of Macfarlane is Douglas Cameron's music, lending the stories ambiance–teasing out their moody subtlety.  The result is that the audience is immersed into a world of narrative and melody that stretches across many of the key events that shaped Newfoundland's history and Macfarlane's own Goodyear family.

The Door You Came In is a two-man production; a relatively modest affair that makes it stand out from the glitzy, big cast musicals or even the smaller, cleverly crafted stage productions with multiple doors and windows.   No video or flashing lights, no special effects except for those created by two men on a stage, be it Macfarlane imitating the sound of his grandfather striking an Eddy match and drawing on his pipe or Douglas Cameron's jigs and ballads on drum, mandolin or ukulele.  There is something very memorable about Macfarlane saying that to listen to his mother you'd think "Bing Crosby took up more airtime than Jesus" and then to have Cameron croon a snippet of Crosby in the background.  This will make it an ideal production to tour through Newfoundland and Labrador, Atlantic Canada and Ontario during 2016.

Even though the stories that are presented on stage span topics and events as varied as tuberculosis, Confederation, a fishing expedition up the Labrador–"too dangerous to ask for permission"–tragic lovers, ghost stories, pirates and limping business ventures there is a characteristic intimacy that unites them and gives the evening an emotional cohesion.  There is a consistent feel of close personal relationship between two people, a quiet and private atmosphere and detailed knowledge of a character's personal world.  The title of the production refers to a favourite saying of Macfarlane's mother that bid visitors to "leave from the door you came in".  For some it is an indication of a superstition not to leave misfortune or death in the house, not to break a charmed circle, while as Macfarlane observes it might have been his mother's "Newfoundlandish" way of telling people on the mainland, where she spent most of her life, where she came from.
David Macfarlane.

World War I and the price it exacted on the Goodyear family are also told in the story selections.  We are provided with searing images like when Stan, "who was good with horses", is killed by a direct hit that was so devastating that others could not tell from the carnage where the man stopped and the horse began.  It is clear why the solitary, battle stripped "danger tree" becomes the real monument to so many deaths rather than the more heroic bronze caribou.

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