Haley McGee Hits the Right Formula in The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale at Soulpepper Theatre, Toronto.

Haley McGee in Soulpepper’s The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

The Toronto Theatre Review: Soulpepper’s The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale

By Ross

A mathematical formula, for sentiment sake, to understand the ultimate value of falling in and out of love relationships. Here lies the underbelly of The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale, presented at Soulpepper Theatre in association with Outside the March and Red Light District. It is, without question, a truth and a ruse, honestly spoken dynamically and captivatingly by the wonderfully quirky Haley McGee (Off-Mirvish’s Dead Metaphor), the writer and performer of this magnificently engaging and sharply formulated undertaking, who uses her frame and her functionings to boldly take center stage to contemplate her value. But it is that cost of loving and coupling, in a time of desperation, that is at the core of this frenzied and smartly orchestrated examination. And we happily run alongside her, as she delivers forth an intimate portrait and examination of love and dismissal that can send a soul spinning in wildly hysterical circles of calculations and adulations, wrapping oneself up in formulas and ideas that could ultimately tie one up for a lifetime. It’s the refinancing of your ratios between fun and misery, laughter and anger, worth and repair; in an uncertain contemplation of our attitudes and reactions towards each moment and mention of one ex-boyfriend or another, living and breathing inside a need to comprehend even if the need is gloriously misguided and impossible to calculate. Yet, in the brutal sharp nervous hands of McGee, the end result, the summation of the cost of loving, or what loving costs us, is breathtakingly raw, funny, authentic, and brilliant.

Sitting cross-legged on a square white pillar, in a pool of light, McGee dives right in. The dilemma is set before us, displayed eight times over with items curated from her different ex-boyfriends, and held onto by this energized woman on the verge of financial ruin. The options seem to have run out for her on the streets of London, England, yet she is not going to let this throw her. “No“, she can’t spare any change at the moment, she tells another soul in need, but she does have an idea, a plan of selling to lift her up out of the pit she finds herself swimming in. Born out of her own love and pain, these experiences, these loves, and these moments of heartbreak and loss – something we all can clap along with her in complete paralleled understanding – just “gotta be worth something“. That’s an undeniable truth, unpacked unselfconsciously on the back wall for the world to see, and this vibrant performer and creative playwright is going to figure out exactly how much. To the penny.

Haley McGee in Soulpepper’s The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Directed with a free-flowing sense of intense purpose and drive by Mitchell Cushman (Factory’s Trojan Girls…), the founding Artistic Director of Outside the March, a figure that McGee likes to engage with directly from the stage, The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale expertly tries to unpack and unwind these eight relationships with these objects symbolically sitting in their own pools of light on those pillars ready to be auctioned off. Their stories, both hilarious and upsetting, are roped and unwound for us all to see utilizing some very playful mannerisms and mandates. She attempts with undeniable panache to shift the way we see and value these objects sitting before us. They are unique, and matter more than the value we might have placed upon them earlier, as they, each in their own way, have helped define and sculpt the artist standing before us. It’s a completely captivating rollercoaster ride, delivered with a sharp hysterical attention to detail that you can’t help connect to. Her body rotates and shifts with an expertise that is hypnotizing, gifting us with meaning at every sharp turn of phrase and body. “Melanie made me a spreadsheet,” McGee proclaims with an excited sense of glee – referring to Melanie Phillips her Mathematician Collaborator, who I feel must be honored for her complete diving in to this chaotic but heroic swimming pool. And we can’t help but join in completely with this examination of the sentimental value of love and its unraveling.

What was the ratio of time spent laughing to the time spent fighting?” she asks, directly and somewhat desperately, as if she is balancing on a tightrope, pleading with us to understand her need to spin these numbers out on every surface available to her. And she does, beautifully and creatively written and transcribed, thanks to the playful construct by set and costume designer Anna Reid (Soho Theatre’s The Ministry of Lesbian Affairs), with superb lighting by designer Lucy Adams (ThisEgg’s The Family Sex Show) and a solid sound design by Kieran Lucas (Nottingham Playhouse’s First Touch). The ideas and mathematical formulas fill the occupied space, displaying her heart and soul precariously inside each big small victories, one after the other, as she tries to discover the appropriate and fair appraisal, before realizing that this journey, although mesmerizing to watch, is endless and far too complex for any mathematical calculation to expose and determine.

Presented by Soulpepper, in association with Outside the March and Red Light District, The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale is a whirlwind wire-delivered wonder, with the unraveling, both metaphorically and physically, giving us endless glimpses into the worth and mechanics of coupling and uncoupling. “Do you think that this wound increases or decreases the value?” I’ll let you decide, but the wild and wonderful theory is there, written out on page after page of posted numbers and formulations. This captivating and hilarious journey succeeds beautifully, mainly because it is grounded in love, heartbreak (sometimes), and a sense of relief that hits its mark with precision, even as she spins herself to exhaustion. It’s in the brutal honesty and the desperate unearthing of so many numerical formulas that find their way into our soul, sending us home to ponder the value of our own collection of love artifacts. “Was it worth it?” I ask myself as I look back over my own collection and start to calculate. All I can say in a response is a resounding “YES”.

Haley McGee in The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale presented by Soulpepper Theatre in association with Outside the March and Red Light District. Photo by Dahlia Katz. For more information and tickets, click here.

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