There’s a reason why small, tightly developed plays are so appealing to me. They leave the audience with nothing to do but see where the characters’ conflicts are going, with little or no fifth business to distract attention.
This can be challenging for actors, not to mention audiences who expect big set pieces.
This three-hander revolves around an errant, failed artist father and the chasm that keeps his aspiring actress daughter from building the bridge back to him. The daughter’s partner is a caterer struggling for the satisfying life her dream promised, and seems initially more connected to Pater Artisticus than her partner. These dynamics, with history and ghosts of missing characters cluttering up the claustrophobic set, and the clearly never finished business that surrounds this person, make for some deliciously tense moments.
Set in Gibson’s Landing, with the distance to Toronto as the measure of the gap in their relationship, we enter with a tense reunion after several years. A metaphorical geographic representation of the emotional distance separating generations, the minimalist set of a Cabin in the Woods exists as curtains and plinth, contained by moving boxes. Nothing is fully unpacked, a clever physical metaphor that reminds us that things we want to change will not, by themselves.
David Bloom’s portrayal of Brian, the Peter Pan artistic failure, is the gravity well that draws Olivia Hutt’s Alison, troubled actor daughter who is tired of Brian’s seemingly unstoppable descent into dreaming about creativity, instead of doing it. Alison’s partner Maddie, played with great vim by Sara Vickruck, orbits between the heavy family dynamics, subtly reassuring and harmonizing, while simultaneously working through her own needs and plans. Brian IS a self-absorbed, vaguely narcissistic absentee father. But he’s the only father that Alison has, and the pain of continuing to love him is less than the pain of shutting him out of her life.
And, just because life can’t avoid being weirder than art, we are presented with a play within a play, as the unfinished business is taken from never before seen words and turned into voiced vibrations, classical references to Greek creation myths, parents dying of want, and of patricide. The sun always rises, even if the chariot driver is different each morning.
Clever use of lighting and sound populate the imagination as an iPod cues music, sound effects, and signals shifting family power dynamics. There are chairs, and a fold-up table which appears and disappears as needed, effortlessly. The minimalism builds the reality of the world, instead of distracting from it. Real food is consumed (vegan? Seemed like it), so even that level of detail enhanced my belief in these characters.
And believe in them I did. Vancity Culture Lab is a very intimate space, with appropriate lighting delivering the subtle cues signalling reality, imaginings, and time passed. The staging is subtle; Chekov’s gun has been silenced, but it’s still a functioning weapon. We don’t need to see it go off to realize it has.
The depths plumbed by these actors, for these characters, is astounding. For all you Sense8 fans out there (I am We!), Alison and Maddie definitely had a Nomi and Neetz moment. It was just gut-rippingly beautiful. And, like all stories about family tension, comedy turns to tragedy and back to comedy again, with the emotional dance moving the viewer through experiences if not familiar, then very, very viscerally felt. More than a few audience members mentioned welling up during a certain crux scene. I was pleased to share their experience.
How do people pull this stuff out of themselves? The words, the feelings, the logical actions that both flow as responses to feelings… and inevitably lead to either comedy or tragedy. Sometimes, rarely, at the same time.
Playwright James Gordon King and director Marie Farsi lead an exemplary creative team that delivers magic. One audience member, in passing after the performance, exclaimed “I wanted to see more!” Is there any more praise a creator can receive, than the tick on the showbiz box? I think not.
Babelle Theatre’s This, Here is playing at the Vancity Culture Lab at The Cultch, 1895 Venables Street, Vancouver, until July 28th. Please go see it.
~reviewed by Bruce M. Campbell
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