Two things we know about Leonard are that he is gay and that he is dead.
We know Leonard is dead because he tells us. We know he is gay because he shows us (by pointing out his mannerisms and suggesting that life might have been different if he had learned to appreciate football.)
Leonard is the central figure of “Cul de Sac,” a remarkable 90 minute one-man show, presented without intermission at the Mondavi Center Studio Theater for three more performances, ending with a matinee on Sunday.
The creation of Canadian writer/actor/director Daniel MacIvor (who performs the work) and Daniel Brooks, “Cul de Sac” examines our place in the world and how that place changes with other people’s perceptions of us, or how we interact with each other.
(Think of the block on which you live. How well do you know your neighbors? Really know your neighbors? How well do they know you?)
Leonard lets us know that his death was sudden and unanticipated and then he introduces us to each of his neighbors, as they learn of his death. In “meeting” these neighbors (all of whom are played, brilliantly, by MacIvor), we learn their view of Leonard, and we watch as they distance themselves from his death.
As he steps into block-shaped pools of light which indicate the home of each of his neighbors, McIvor also steps into the bodies of his neighbors. So complete is the instant transformation, so rich the characterizations, that we have no difficulty picturing the residents of each house, even when they engage in rapid-fire dialogue with each other. (An unbelievable Christmas party takes place, where in MacIvor is all of the guests at once, jumping in and out of identities in the blink of an eye.)
We meet Joy, love-starved housewife from Minnesota who is constantly bickering with her husband Eddie.
Next door is Virginia, the haughty Gilbert & Sullivan diva who dabbles in nudism and was very close to Leonard’s former partner Robert, a social climber, but who, like the rest of his neighbors, didn’t really know Leonard very well.
Mr. Bickerson (or “Bick” as he was known when he played college football) is the crusty, toothless, old retired veterinarian who yells at kids to get off his lawn and who kills the neighborhood cats in his basement so he won’t forget how to do it.
Finally, there is 13 year old Madison, an anorexic budding author, who thinks oral sex isn’t really sex because President Clinton said so and “isn’t it in the Constitution or something?” Madison has been Leonard’s closest friend, who ultimately, unwittingly sets in motion the events leading up to his death.
One by one we watch them discussing Leonard’s death, there in the privacy of their own homes. We learn that none of them felt they knew Leonard well, so they don’t let his tragic death touch them too deeply.
As the reactions to Leonard’s death unfold, so, too do the lives and personalities of these inhabitants of the cul de sac which is really a “dead end” for all of them, in one way or another, as much as it was literally for Leonard.
The final person we meet is Eric, a prostitute Leonard picks up at a gay bar. Eric, who has a woman of his own, will do anything for money to feed his drug habit.
“Cul de Sac” mixes black humor and hard-hitting reality. In the Q&A following the performance, MacIvor described it as “Our Town” meets “Nightmare on Elm Street.”
With assistance of the powerful lighting design of Kimberly Purtell, effectively using harsh flashes of lightning, temporarily blinding the audience, and the sound and music design of Richard Feren (who was replaced by Michael Laird for this United States tour because Feren will not enter the U.S. while George W.Bush is in office), this becomes an unforgettable work which will have its impact on the audience.
This work may not be to the tastes of the more mainstream theater goer, but for those willing to step out of the box and try something a little different, the evening will have great rewards.