Halfway through a rehearsal of Never Swim Alone, the latest production by the Revelstoke Theatre Company, I pulled out my phone. Not because I was bored, but because I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on. I looked up a synopsis of the play to see if I had missed something at the start.
I hadn’t. I just had to wait for the play to evolve, and for the themes and ideas of Daniel McIvor’s script to really emerge. It was worth the wait. “I’m pretty sure the intention is everybody is lost for the first three or four rounds,” said Ray Cooper, who plays Frank, one of the two main characters.
Never Swim Alone is a play about two friends engaged in a 13-round battle fuelled by ego and rivalry. They appear to be mirror images of each others — both are of similar stature and dressed almost exactly the same. On the outside, the only thing that separates Frank and Bill (played by Darren McKay) is that the former has hair, and the latter doesn’t.
In between is the referee, played by Danielle Foisy, who sits in a lifeguard chair, blowing her whistle and deciding the victor of each round.
At first, they’re even the same mentally, spouting the exact same phrases at the exact same time as they take part in their verbal, and sometimes physical, duel. They’re two alpha males, seemingly very successful, but they harbour deep secrets and are far more troubled than they initially appear.
As the play evolves, the source of the mens’ tension is unveiled and the existence of the referee becomes clear. We find out more about them and they slowly differentiate themselves, revealing their struggles.
Never Swim Alone is described as “abstract satire” and it is not immediately obvious what it is about. The play is both funny, dark and dramatic.
“Most of us have taken something different away from it,” said director Justin Smith. “The strongest tool of abstract is you can personalize it yourself and you can pull something very powerful and very meaningful, and not stay accurate to the source material.”
For Smith, putting on this play has been a long time coming. He first looked at it with producer Martin Ralph about three years ago, but it took two tries to cast.
Eventually, Cooper and McKay were cast in the lead. In February they started working on the script together.
“I have some theatre experience but I’ve never done something so abstract. At first read, I wasn’t really enamoured with it,” said Cooper. Over time, it grew on him. “The layers that started to reveal themselves started to appeal to me.”
The two leads had a big challenge ahead of them. On numerous occasions they have to mirror each other’s words and actions, and finish each other’s sentences. There’s one point where they’re both telling a story about the other’s father, but they talk over each other as they do so. The referee intervenes and they repeat the story word-for-word, but sped up this time.
“You’re seeing the thought process of these men. It’s entirely metaphysical,” said Smith. “At no point is this on the physical plane. It’s ethereal. It’s all conceptual to them.”
Meanwhile, Foisy sits back on her chair, her presence at first a bit of mystery. About halfway through the play you learn of the tragic incident that brought her to her seat between the two men.
Foisy, who just graduated from Revelstoke Secondary School and hopes to become a drama teacher, said the play grew on her as she began to understand it more.
“If something of this magnitude happens to you, you can’t let it eat you up because otherwise it’s going to affect the rest of your life,” she said. “You have to make peace with it.”
Never Swim Alone will be performed in the Selkirk Room at the Regent Hotel on August 11–13 and 18–20. The Thursday performances are shows only, with doors at 6:30 p.m. and a chance to talk to the cast afterwards. Tickets are $10.
The Friday and Saturday night performances include dinner and the show. The meal includes salad, prime rib or salmon, and dessert. Tickets are $30 and must be purchased in advance at the Revelstoke Credit Union, Regent Hotel or Revelstoke Theatre Company website.