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SCRUTINY | Haley McGee Mesmerizes With Talent As Wordsmith & Actor In Age Is A Feeling

By Paula Citron on June 14, 2024

Haley McGee in Age is a Feeling presented by Soulpepper Theatre & Luminato (Photo: Dahlia Katz)
Haley McGee in Age is a Feeling presented by Soulpepper Theatre & Luminato (Photo: Dahlia Katz)

Soulpepper & London’s Soho Theatre, in association with Luminato Festival/Age is a Feeling, written and performed by Haley McGee, directed by Mitchell Cushman (original direction by Adam Bruce), closes June 23. Tickets here.

I could listen to Haley McGee read the proverbial telephone book, because I’m sure she would put all manner of meaning into reciting names and numbers. That is the kind of actor she is. She elevates words and language.

McGee is also a writer, and has become something of the queen of solo shows. In 2022, Soulpepper mounted McGee’s sensational The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale, and now, courtesy of the company and Luminato, we can experience the richness of her latest offering, Age is a Feeling. The show is coming from London, where the Canadian-born McGee now lives, riding a wave of glory — two sold out runs at Soho Theatre, and an Olivier Award nomination, not to mention being an award winner at the Edinburgh Fringe.

The actor/playwright tells stories. That’s what she does, but the beauty of her plays is their deep look into the human condition. We all can relate to her stories on a very personal level because she talks about us, as she talks to us. McGee is a master storyteller, pure and simple.

Age is a Feeling is the chronicle of a life as told in the second person, so a line might be, “At age 30, you did such and such.” What is astonishing is that McGee begins the play within her own age group, but she then departs to middle and old age where she has no personal experience, yet, everything she says has a ring of truth. She begins at age 25 because, as she tells us, that is when the brain stops developing, and after that, you are on your own, so to speak.

Zoë Hurwitz’s set is built around a very tall lifeguard chair. Twelve tall flowering plants, suspended by invisible wires, surround the chair, each containing a card with one word on it, like bus, oysters and crab apple.

Haley McGee in Age is a Feeling presented by Soulpepper Theatre & Luminato (Photo: Dahlia Katz)
Haley McGee in Age is a Feeling presented by Soulpepper Theatre & Luminato (Photo: Dahlia Katz)

These words represent an incident in a life, but here’s the kicker. Audience members choose which stories we will hear, by selecting from the cards McGee has taken off the plants. Those plant/words not chosen are cut down — a metaphor for life if ever there was.

These home truths that the cards denote are not earth-shattering events. Rather, they are the seemingly random incidents that make up a life. Past unresolved issues with parents, wanting a dog and finally getting one, meeting a stranger on a bus and forming a relationship, regret at not becoming a mother, finding the first facial wrinkle, coping with the growing disability of old age — these are just a few of the stories I heard on the evening I attended.

Thus, as astonishing as it seems, McGee gives a different performance every time, depending on the cards chosen. I am in awe of the skill that McGee displays in how she weaves the chosen stories together, as if that were the only script. It is a monumental acting achievement

What is interesting is that McGee has compiled these stories into a book, for sale in the lobby, so an interested person can get to read the ones not told in the performance — but then again, we don’t ever know everything about another person, do we?

There is so much metaphor in the play. The symbol of the lifeguard chair, for example, because sitting there gives one an overview of the entire beach, or a life in this case. The randomness of life as illustrated by the audience choosing the stories. The cutting down of the plants symbolizing what has passed from your memory, while the standing plants are those memories which remain fresh. She also taps on a metal cup, like a gong in a Buddhist prayer service, to emphasize every time she makes a particularly strong statement.

McGee imbues her writing with ironic humour and there are some laugh out loud moments in the play. There are, of course, many poignant ones as well, not to mention a brilliant use of repetition. Every time she says the dictum, “Drink more water, eat more vegetables, and exercise more”, it is in a different context, and has a different meaning. The sheer scope of McGee’s writing skills is awe-inspiring.

The best way to describe Age is a Feeling, is that McGee weaves a spell with her storytelling and captures us in her thrall.

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Paula Citron
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