The Great Innovator: A review of Andrew Moodie''s play The Real McCoy

28 Nov 2006

The Toronto theatre scene has been bursting with both talent and originality in the last few years thanks to the influx of diverse stories but mostly because of the talent of young actors, writers and playwrights. One of those playwrights is Andrew Moodie writer and director of The Real McCoy opening on February 2nd at the Factory Theatre.

Andrew Moodie’s past work does not shy away from what is conventionally viewed as controversy.

His first play Riot won the Chalmers Award as best new play and dealt with the Los Angeles riots (resulting from the Rodney King verdict) as seen by young African-Canadians in Toronto.

Maurice Dean Wint and Kevin Hanchard .

He followed that up with Oui, a drama-comedy about a French-Canadian family’s divisions as a result of the 1995 Quebec referendum and then A Common Man’s Guide to Loving Women and Wilbur County Blues. So from Canadian politics, Moodie retreats to the world of African-Canadian history to both enlighten and entertain with The Real McCoy.

If you are used to major theatrical productions like Les Miserables, Umoja or Wicked, seeing The Real McCoy at the Factory Theatre will require some mental gymnastics: you will have to get used to seeing the same actor appear as a character’s mother, girlfriend and wife. You will have to get used to a black woman calling a black man Negro because she is playing a white woman. You will have to accept the small shadows of actors changing costumes in the background, the static stage, the objects being dropped periodically and the absence of mood music. But you will love it because that will showcase both the talent of the actors but also the strength of the dialogue and the backbone of a play that does not wholly rely on external props to capture our imagination.

Playwright Andrew Moodie

The Real McCoy recounts the life of Elijah McCoy, a gifted African-Canadian from Colchester, Ontario who invented a machine to lubricate the moving parts of a railway locomotive and thereby revolutionized the world of thermo-dynamics and travel.

McCoy as a boy is played by Kevin Hanchard a brilliant stage and screen actor who conveys through eye movements and gestures the awkwardness of the young inventor discovering his talent in Canada and then later as a teenager at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

Ardon Bess as the father channels the son’s energy, constantly challenging and rewarding him, but also reminding him of the limits of human intelligence set by The Great Inventor upstairs.

Maurice Dean Wint masterfully plays the adult Elijah McCoy, taking us through the strife of the inventor as a black man like many others, in the Michigan of the 1870s, denied a job commensurate to his talents and forced to work as a railway fireman. Other cast members include Bruce Beaton, Matthew Delisppe, Zainab Musa of Metropia fame and the great Marcia Johnson who does an amazing job as both McCoy’s guardian and second wife.

The Real McCoy may be at times difficult to grasp for the minds unacquainted to scientific theory. The play delves (a little too much in some cases) into the details of Elijah McCoy’s work even showing schematics on a back screen. Many professors of Mechanical Engineering are acknowledged in the programme with good reason. Their insight is clearly visible throughout the dialogue of many of the scenes where McCoy explains his work to peers and laymen. Beyond the science however, both the resolve and the pain of the man shine through and will resonate with many viewers; the pain of losing a wife, a mother and enduring racism; the resolve of a man who went on to acquire 57 patents by the time of his death in 1929 and among many other instruments, invented the ironing table and the lawn sprinkler.

The Real McCoy opens at the Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst Street) on February 2nd, 2006. Tuesday - Thursday at 8:00 pm: $25, Friday at 8:00 pm: $30, Saturday at 8:00 pm: $35, Sunday matinee at 2:00 pm: $20 in advance or Pay What You Can at the door.

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