A Review of The Message at the Tarragon Theatre, Toronto

19Nov18

R.H. Thompson as Marshall McLuhan in The Message, at the Tarragon Theatre, Toronto (Photo by Cylla Von Teidemann) Click on the image for an expanded view.
  • Title: The Message
  • Written by: Jason Sherman
  • Genre: Comedy-Drama
  • Director: Richard Rose
  • Actors: R.H. Thomson, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, Sarah Orenstein, Peter Hutt, Patrick McManus
  • Company: Tarragon Theatre
  • Venue: Tarragon Theatre Mainspace
  • City: Toronto
  • Year: Runs until Dec. 16

Review by Simon Houpt

A little over halfway through The Message, playwright Jason Sherman’s dense and searching head trip into the manic mind of Marshall McLuhan, a slick San Francisco ad man named Gerry Feigen who had helped make the Canadian communications guru a household name pays him a mournful visit. McLuhan has suffered a stroke that has left him ailing and mute, and Feigen, formerly bawdy and brazen when they worked together in the mid-1960s, is now regretful. He wonders if he had overpromised the deliverance McLuhan could offer those souls who had grown disenchanted by the rapid changes in society. “We made you out to be The One,” he says. “But you never said you had the answer, Mac. All you ever said you had was the question.”

There may be a similar burden of expectation hovering over The Message, which marks Sherman’s return to playwriting after years in the mines of TV and other electronic media. It has been 15 years, after all, since the threat of a lawsuit by the McLuhan family halted the play’s production mere months before its scheduled world premiere. If it had something to tell us in 2003 – that is, before the iPhone and Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and YouTube were born and then proceeded to swallow us like Jonah’s whale – then surely the message of The Message has grown ever more urgent. By returning to a man who foresaw the pains of our transitional moment, could we claw our way out of this fix?

So: Enter cautiously. Because, sure, McLuhan famously said “time has ceased … we now live in a global village … a simultaneous happening.” But while The Message is chronologically fractured, do not expect specific references to our own era, or social media, or even the existence of the internet. Its focus remains on McLuhan’s life, which ended on Dec. 31, 1980, at age 69.

We open 15 months earlier, in the hours after McLuhan’s stroke in September, 1979. In an extended blackout scene, a woman calling herself Mary explains that “Father” is angry with McLuhan – who converted to Catholicism at age 26 – for failing to deliver a message to the world. “That’s why he’s done this, Professor – taken your words.” She adds: “Father says you can’t come unless you deliver the message.”

Read the rest of this review at https://goo.gl/vFQmtK.



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