The Mystery of Mr. Leftovers: A Desperate Plea for Companionship and Love
By Sharon B. Moore
Jillian Peever Dance Creations & Cinetic Creations
Winchester Street Theatre, Toronto
February 25 to 27
If Jillian Peever set out to be named the hardest working woman in show business, she certainly succeeded with this production. For a full, head-snapping hour, Peever talks, acts, changes costumes, moves props and dances with a fury, as her protagonist Mr. Leftovers.
The high-energy show makes a dramatic, first full-length piece for Peever, who trained with the School of Toronto Dance Theatre and performed for a year with TDT. She has worked with just about every big name in contemporary dance, including Peggy Baker, who has mentored her, and Denise Fujiwara, who made Peever an understudy in Eunoia.
It was obvious from all the material Peever mastered that Mr. Leftovers has been thoroughly rehearsed and dramaturged. Sharon Moore’s text mentions the year 1887, which explains the Victorian outfit and top hat (festooned with long twigs) Peever first appears in. “I was born for greatness and for Empire,” says Mr. Leftovers, establishing his “freshly starched lineage.” It was all downhill from there, from a job as a butler to a rotten marriage to a stint in the war.
But really this character is an Everyman, whose fragmentary tale makes a physical reality out of dreaming, yearning, remembering and reinventing oneself – the ways in which a lonely heart will survive. It’s all done at pretty much top speed, as Peever runs or stretches, leaps or sprawls across the stage, gyrating between “control” and “no control” – enacting a mental state of being pulled from pillar to post.
Dressing up or dressing down, hauling in a trio of Christmas trees, Peever never misses a line. Some of them are quite profane (“Fuckers!” she shouts at unseen enemies) or funny. Many scenes are cleverly mounted. There’s a trick she does with red plungers stuck to the floor to make a barrier and a row of black boots in pairs, with one boot toppling after another, represents fallen soldiers. After an accident at sea, Mr. Leftovers is rowing an imaginary lifeboat, as Peever sits on a chair that makes a fulcrum for two long oars. She manipulates a pliant, thin board of plywood to make unusual sounds and to hide behind as if it were a wall or even a force of nature.
The lengthy monologue, the more poetic lines repeated to make a dance pattern, is backed by music from Bach, Vivaldi, Philip Glass, Mendelsshon, Purcell, Chopin and some jaunty ragtime and Latin music. Through it all Peever labours, performing episodes in a life that sounds like one long lament. “I’m a mere figment of what I used to be,” complains an old, forgetful Leftovers.
It is only in the brief moments when she’s not speaking her lines that we see how expressive a dancer Peever is, with her sharply defined moves and long, extending arms. It’s not easy to speak and dance at the same time and it is difficult for an audience to take in the language of the dance while piecing together the story that’s coming out of the dancer’s mouth.
By the end of the hallucinatory performance, full of literary and artistic allusions from the Hunchback of Notre Dame to Charlie Chaplin, the mystery of Mr. Leftovers is pretty much dispelled, leaving only the question, “How does she do it?”