Presented by Soulpepper in association with Outside the March and the red light district
Sometimes a show’s title and description just don’t convey the magic it has in store. Writer and performer Haley McGee’s The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale is a perfect case in point. As one of the ex-boyfriends scoffs, the title is very twee. And calculating the cost of love sounds like a pseudo-poetic concept my oh-so-clever teenage self would have just devoured.
Then I saw McGee’s whimsical, auto-biographical solo show and realized: those very aspects that sounded insufferable prove to be apt, awesome and belly-laugh funny.
This show came from a period when McGee was in deep in debt and heartbroken, when the “ledger of my life felt to me like a big, whopping zero.” Ouch, yes; this is relatable content. With the help of a mathematician (Mel Frances), she set about generating a legit formula for calculating the cost of heartbreak.
And it’s a doozy. Seeing it written out in full is breathtaking, but it’s the elaborate breakdown of each element that’s really dizzying.
Gently interactive from the start, we are presented with eight objects displayed on pedestals. They range from an antique typewriter and sapphire necklace to a highschool mix-CD and used T-shirt. When the audience first arrives, we are invited up on the stage to jot down what we would pay for any of them at a yard sale. This figures into the real-time, on-site calculations!
Each was a gift from an ex-boyfriend and thus have sentimental value. Referring to these former lovers not by name, but as the objects, she reveals intimate details of each relationship. There are also brief audio clips from interviews she had with them as part of her research.
A myriad of economic and emotional factors are plugged into her grand formula to calculate how much these items are worth in cold, hard cash. As the aspects of her life and the specifics of the relationships are addressed, a number of hilarious visual aids are employed to great effect. Seemingly endless lists of minutiae spool out from all corners of the stage. Charts and figures drop down from the ceiling on huge sheets of brown paper.
How much did the item cost at the time? How much was she or the boyfriend earning at the time? How long was the relationship? How good was the sex? How much money or time or energy or emotion was invested or lost or gained or transferred or—ad nauseam. Everything gets a number. Anything can be a percentage. This is life as a pragmatic assessment of value.
Director Mitchell Cushman and the design team gradually increase the sense of analysis paralysis as the accumulating information leads to a chaotic physical mess. The spectacle features: interpretive dance, styrofoam beans, bubble wrap and an installation art yarn sculpture. It’s a frantic fever dream of retrospective self-indulgence and I loved every second.
Above all else, what really sells this is McGee herself. Her vibe, I dig it—the deadpan humour, the genuine rapport with the audience, the gradual build to manic intensity and the final poignant send-off. She fills that whole stage with an endearing, urgent energy that holds firm.
The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale is wild ride. And all this talk of money is, of course, a metaphor. And it hits home. The beauty of her formula is the underlying idea at its core: that our experience—that we—are worth something.