Bryden MacDonald’s play Whale Riding Weather teases the reader with images and themes drawn from his experiences and observations of life on the off ramp. The off ramp is actually a hole in the bed/lounging room where MacDonald’s two main characters, Lyle and Auto, have retreated while the new age out there dawns. Lyle’s cynicism and Auto’s eroticism have languished too long. Unfortunately, they don’t get in each other’s way much anymore. The sparks that fly are measured and rehearsed. Into this calculated chaos comers a bright-eyed, mischievous catalyst who calls himself Jude. Through the rambling and caustic monologues of Lyle, the acerbic asides of Auto and hyperbolic babbling of Jude, MacDonald works this gay trinity for all its self-worth. The recent Dangerous Dreamers production of Whale Riding Weather allowed MacDonald, as director, oversee another staging of his Governor General nominated play. There is no question that controversy has blossomed around this work. After successful productions in Vancouver, Toronto and Halifax, Whale Riding Weather was to come home to where its author was born and brought out. The production was tight and professional in all aspects.
Walter Borden’s Lyle ached with every move and gesture. Lyle’s delirious monologues, punctuated with brief moments of clarity, were delivered with MacDonald’s prose intact. It is hard to conceive of anyone but Borden giving life to Lyle. The role of Auto is the most challenging. Frank Zotter rises to the occasion. Zotter must instantly create a vulnerable presence without dialogue. His lonesome silhouette on the down-stage-right corner of the set during Lyle’s opening dialogues hovers over the action for the remainder of the play. Over the years, I’ve observed many Hollywood and Broadway acting careers go down the tubes after they played homosexuals. With that in mind, I believe Mike McPhee’s courage in playing Jude must be recognized. Playing a gay man in a small-minded community takes a lot of guts. McPhee, the least experienced actor pf the trinity, pulled it off with ease. MacDonald’s direction keeps his writing on the move. A highlight was his handling of the playful brief-clad scenes between Auto and Jude. MacDonald captured their coupling in a romantic bubble which may be pricked at any moment. The set, designed and supervised by Brock Lumsden, created the claustrophobic clutter necessary to tell this story. Although Whale Riding Weather was one of the most satisfying theatrical adventures I’ve experienced in a long time, you may want to read the play for its literary impact.
Whale Riding Weather is published by Talonbooks, Vancouver. Bryden MacDonald is presently living in Halifax. Dangerous Dreamers season of live theatre will continue in the fall with a production of Beatrice MacNeil’s new work, Company D.