Review by: John Girhiny
Let me start by saying that this review will not be able to do justice to the play.
In this premiere Canadian production of a hit Irish play, Myra, a homeless “wine connoisseur” shares her story with street-smart style, wry wit and brutal honesty. “There is a fair out community of us wine connoisseurs here in Dublin. We’re one of the cities major growth industries.”
By way of background on the actress who portrays Myra Hennessey, Jennifer Cornish began honing her craft as an actor at the age of 8, becoming professional at 19. Trained by industry pros from Stratford, Shaw, Second City and Kids in the Hall, Jennifer has also worked in film and television, but says she has spent the best parts of her life on both professional and community theatre stages. Jennifer founded Kitchener-based PrACTical TheACTrics in 2010. “Theatre, to me, is the art of witnessing humanity, both in myself and in the world. It asks the actor and the audience, both, to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, to experience someone else’s story. Stories have the power to change the way we think, which is big magic because changing the way we think is the only way to change pretty much anything.”
Myra is on stage when the audience arrives, sleeping on a park bench. When she awakes the audience is struck with the costuming and makeup. Then follows the impact on the senses of the spoken word. A moment should be taken to refer to the script extraordinary in itself.
Playwright, Brian Foster, left school at 16 with no qualifications except street smarts. Woven of truth and fiction, the hugely likeable, hugely vulnerable character Myra is an amalgam of several street drinkers Foster was familiar with in his home town of Derry, Northern Ireland. Myra, says Foster, “is not an educated woman — but she has a street-nurtured intelligence about her.” And Myra’s Story is merely a small window into the life of someone whom almost anyone could become. With regard to his choice of Jennifer Cornish he says, “I was looking for a very special someone with the ability not just to act Myra, but to physically and mentally become her for each performance”. “I was delighted to find such a special person in Jennifer Cornish. A rare find indeed.”
Myra proceeds to tell us the story of her 48 years of life and the impact that “the beast”, alcoholism, has had on her and her family. You get boozed up to keep the memories out so that you are able to go on. She quotes her father on a number of occasions, such as, “Education. The most powerful weapon of them all.” and her husband “the pen is mightier than the sword but only if you remember to put ink into it.”
The words and portrayal of her descent into alcoholism and subsequent climb back out only to be followed by her final descent are masterpieces. The ability of one person to hold our attention for a full 80 minutes while she delivers flawlessly the script and to give life to the script at the same time is an outstanding talent.
Myra received top honours at the 2013 London Fringe.
Excellent, Excellent, Excellent are the only words to describe this production. Hamilton Fringe does not easily give standing ovations and appropriately so. Last night Myra received one and hopefully this will continue for the entire run.