Daniel MacIvor is one of Canada's most highly regarded performance artists. That reputation gets a major boost from his latest work, "Cul-de-sac," which transforms a potentially pedestrian story into an extraordinary final product, thanks to superb work from all connected with the show, right down the line.

Daniel MacIvor is one of Canada’s most highly regarded performance artists. That reputation gets a major boost from his latest work, “Cul-de-sac,” which transforms a potentially pedestrian story into an extraordinary final product, thanks to superb work from all connected with the show, right down the line.

The piece, which has played throughout North America, opens Dec. 2 in New York at P.S. 122.

Performed on a bare stage by a black-clad MacIvor, “Cul-de-sac” begins with an artfully created thunderstorm from sound designer Richard Feren, whose work throughout is impressive.

Blinding lightning is the first thing we see of Kimberley Purtell’s surgically precise lighting, and when our eyes finally focus, there is MacIvor as the languid loser Leonard.

He informs us that he’ll be taking us from beyond the grave on a tour of the dead-end street in Toronto that gives the play its title.

This is where Leonard lived and, more to the point, died. The play deals with the last minutes of his life, starting at 2:02 a.m. on a rainy Sunday night that will never turn into Monday morning.

Only in the final quarter-hour do we come to learn the details of how Leonard was brutally beaten to death by a higher-than-a-kite hustler he brought home to ease his loneliness.

But until then, MacIvor is willing to string us along, building tension through bursts of frightening flash-forward as he seemingly amuses us with a look at Leonard’s more benign neighbors.

There’s Joy and Eddie, an oddly matched pair who express their mutual love and need for each other through constant sparring. Relentlessly “normal” and painfully middle-class, they seem to be the antithesis of Leonard, who is unlucky in life, less lucky in love, least lucky in death.

Virginia is a preening culture-vulture, with a penchant for middlebrow Gilbert & Sullivan, awkward social gatherings and chronic meddling. Oh yes, and she’s also a nudist. She fills us in on the details of Leonard’s recently departed boyfriend, a social climber par excellence.

Then there’s Mr. Bickerson, the retired veterinarian who initially may appear to be your archetypal old codger, but is gradually revealed as someone with a darker side of his own. He’s been known to kill the local cats, just so he won’t lose the knack of how to “put down” an animal that he spent so many years acquiring.

Then we meet Madison, a disaffected 13-year-old girl who starves herself, writes endlessly in a journal and is already orally sexually active with the boys at school. She was Leonard’s closest friend and helps fill in more of the gaps in his existence.

Finally, there’s Eric, the pay-for-sex maniac whom Leonard has the misfortune to pick up at a bar on that fatal evening. What’s left of Eric’s mind rapidly vanishes in a cloud of drugs and dreams of porno stardom as he savagely kicks Leonard to death in a sequence that’s a black masterpiece of staging, writing, acting, lighting and sound. Director Daniel Brooks rises to MacIvor’s challenge by pulling all the pieces together to deadly effect.

There’s a bittersweet ending that offers a wisp of hope about the human condition, but MacIvor knows better than to slip into mawkish sentimentality.

He makes his point that all the residents of this cul-de-sac are trapped in one form of emotional dead end or another. Leonard has the misfortune to allow his desperation to lead him to a point where his body dies along with his soul.

MacIvor’s skill as a performer and author continues to grow with each new piece. In this outing, he presents people who initially may seem to be comic caricatures, but then allows them to grow before your eyes until they acquire three-dimensionality.

The material is tough and not for mainstream tastes, but the simplicity of the physical production (other than the complex sound and lighting) and the strength of the piece itself should see that it has a long life in alternative venues around the world.

Cul-De-Sac

Buddies In Bad Times Theater, Toronto; 300 Seats; C$29 ($23) Top

Production

A Buddies in Bad Times Theater presentation of a Da Da Kamera production of a play in one act created by Daniel MacIvor and Daniel Brooks. Text and performance by Daniel MacIvor. Directed by Daniel Brooks.

Creative

Sound and music, Richard Feren; lighting, Kimberley Purtell; dramaturg, Brooks. Opened, reviewed Oct. 13, 2004. Running time: 1 HOUR, 15 MIN.

Cast

With: Daniel MacIvor.
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