A self-portrait of sorts

Local actor/playwright Ross McMillan tackles a familiar subject in his latest work, The Daffodil Man

Barb Stewart, Uptown

Theatre Projects Manitoba is producing a brand new play by acclaimed local actor/playwright Ross McMillan called The Daffodil Man, as part of its yearly In the Chamber series. The series, which features a work-in-progress by a local writer/performer, has come to be known as a source for challenging-yet-entertaining new works – and challenging-yet-entertaining work is something for which McMillan is known.

McMillan, who is currently featured in a recurring role in the CityTV comedy Less Than Kind, is no stranger to the fringes of Winnipeg theatre, with previous works such as Washing Spider Out and Harry S. Rintoul Memorial Award-winner The Ingrates (named best new Manitoba play at the 2007 Fringe Festival). The Daffodil Man should prove no exception to his past artistic explorations mining the depths of the human psyche, with hilarious consequences. This time McMillan turns the tables on himself for his art, with the help of co-star Carolyn Gray.

“The Daffodil Man is a Winnipeg actor/playwright named Ross McMillan who is a self-important nobody. I’d like to think that with the character I’ve taken aspects of myself and magnified them grotesquely. That’s what I’d like to think,” laughs McMillan.

Why, you may ask, would an actor/playwright put himself in such a dangerous position of self-exposure? For McMillan, the answer is found in the marrow of truth one hopes art can uncover about one’s self.

“I really believe that’s something that artists willfully forget, that one of your options, always, is actually to tell the truth about yourself. I think we go into a sort of amnesia about that, but I think once in a while it’s refreshing to actually say, ‘Well what would it feel like to actually tell the truth?’ When I watch a movie or read a book or see a play where that’s what’s going on, I know I find it a very powerful thing. And so I hope audiences will. Although, as I say, I’ve couched this shameful self-exposure in sort of comically exaggerated terms, as a way of protecting myself and as a way of thanking the audience for being there.”

McMillan’s comedic strength goes one step beyond entertaining an audience; he also uses comedy as a device to ask more of them than straight-forward drama probably ever could. It’s a sort of comic hyperbole that snares audiences into thought-provoking entertainment, the kind one would be hard-pressed to find on any other theatrical stage.

“The characters are eccentric, almost to the point of madness, and the reason I do that, I guess, is that I feel it’s great for comedy – but I somehow feel driven as a playwright to dare the audience not to take the characters seriously. To say, ‘Yeah they’re larger than life so you don’t have to take them too seriously,’ then over the course of the play force the audience to indeed take them seriously.

“Without Theatre Projects I would probably be unproducable,” laughs McMillan.

Theatre Projects Manitoba
May 7-9, Gas Station Theatre