What a delightful pleasure to familiarize myself with the unique performance style of Haley McGee for the first time. In development since 2012, I’m Doing This for You certainly displays maturity; from the unusual bare bones of its dwindling relationships theme to the bare all confidence of this actress who easily flips between playing jittery one minute then extremely poised the next. And I don’t mean she takes her clothes off, though there are plenty of references to body image concerns, such as her attempts to contort herself to fit through the opening in a hanger, as an indication of boyfriend-worthy size.
McGee describes it best herself: “I wanted to talk directly to you – the audience – by creating a scenario where all the variables of live performance could be embraced in the show.” In this magical solo show, McGee hosts us – the “hired” audience – as we prepare to surprise her boyfriend on his birthday and support what will be his impromptu comedy act. In drama school we are taught to make our audience members specific so our performance is grounded, but many performers forget to do so once on stage, or project something vague beyond the fourth wall. So what McGee does is brilliant. We have been sought out on Craigslist of all places! She employs us in all senses of the word. We are coached hilariously on how to sing Happy Birthday with perfection, being reminded often of the key. We help her serve up vodka shots and, later, meticulously divvy up cupcakes. She borrows an audience member’s phone to call the very late guest of honour when she can’t find her own. She wants to make sure her man knows he is the one; going to the depths to ensure he has the best audience ever and finally knows he can expect her to fully support his stand-up comedy career. It’s a grand gesture indeed. As she slowly unravels, however, we learn the true state of their relationship. Furthermore, we learn just how long it has been since the two last saw each other. The piece begs us to ask what length we would go to rekindle a love. And is it worth the risk of it being unrequited? Further, in a society that tends to praise the grand gestures made by males, should women not have the chance to make equal gestures to prove their feelings?
Beautifying the pleasing set (Shannon Lea Doyle) are ornately adorned tables that help this wild journey transcend beyond the immediacy of the Michael Young Theatre. The biggest feature are the strings of white balloons hanging from the ceiling and cleverly utilized in many different ways.
Above all McGee handles this role, which she herself calls strange, with command and ease. It’s no surprise the piece has toured internationally and is worthy of several accolades (Lustrum Award for Artistic Excellence, Drayton Arms’ Brompton Prize).
I’m Doing This for You runs a little long, but we can likely blame the late start time due to downpour. Besides, the mounting suspense, seamless improvisation and endless entertainment value don’t have us looking at our watches once. Will he ever show up? You will just have to see for yourself. Catch her at rEvolver Festival (Vancouver) or UNO Festival (Victoria) next.